September 12, 2009
How Green Is My Metropolis, The Book
David Owen has a new book, titled Green Metropolis, that will be released next week. His 2004 New Yorker essay "Green Manhattan" [PDF] is a classic. The book looks like an extended treatment of the same idea.
Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan— the most densely populated place in North America —rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.
These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.
Media Physics with Prof. Hova
He now calls the old record companies "archaic," and says they made a huge error in 2000 when they sued to stop the original Napster, which popularized free file sharing: "They had it all in one place coming through one hole, where they could control it. They shut that down, and just opened the floodgates. Now everyone's running their own Napster. Now it's just a hole in the universe, and it's too late."
"Now it's just a hole in the universe." That really is the right image for the craziness we now face. Media space-time torn asunder. Well-established principles of album acceleration and movie momentum no longer apply. It's just a hole in the universe!
Forgive me while I crow for just a moment: Mr. Penumbra just hit what I think is a new peak in the Kindle store. It's the 937th bestselling item in the entire Kindle universe. The fourth-bestselling short story. The third-bestselling "techno thriller."
The sad truth: As best I can figure, that rank was driven by about 30 copies over the past two days.
Alas, Kindle. Your universe is small indeed.
September 11, 2009
The Tao of Lego
I'm with Jason when he says Legos are becoming just another single-use plastic toy.
But, even as the sets get more corporate, Lego builders get more creative. And, my god. I just cannot comprehend how people build some of this stuff:
The mech from District 9, perfectly rendered, with room for a Lego minifig inside.
Spaceships cooler than anything Lego has ever sold.
And, my favorite, the "microspace" movement, which is like the haiku form of Lego-building. The emphasis is on economy of construction and wee tiny scale. And yet: Danger. Style. Speed. Drama. Each one is like a little puzzle, sometimes a little joke.
This, my friends, is the tao of Lego.
September 10, 2009
I Hear Prada's Collection Is All Voronoi Diagrams This Season
Here's a great post about Voronoi diagrams: what they are, why they're cool, and how to draw them. sevensixfive writes: "they can be used to describe almost literally everything: from cell phone networks to radiolaria, at every scale: from quantum foam to cosmic foam."
After you have drawn your own Voronoi diagram by hand, perhaps you will enjoy this rad Voronoi diagram animation made with Processing.
Taking It to the Streets
New Kickstarter update in which I visit a local printer and am simultaneously disappointed and emboldened.
(Nerd question: In an upcase headline, you'd leave "to" lowercase, as I did, right? Or no? I always hem and haw.)
Pet Sounds, Renewed
I think I forgot to post this a month or so ago when I couldn't stop listening to it. Some genius had the amazing idea to remove the backing vocals from all the tracks on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The result is kind of breathtaking, especially "God Only Knows":
The difficulty and the peculiarity of these vocal lines can get obscured in the full versions. Just listen to the fugue section of that song. Man.
And of course, "Sloop John B," my other favorite song from Pet Sounds:
The Correspondent-Fixer Dialectic
George Packer on the death of Sultan Munadi: "It's Always the Fixer Who Dies."
Mr. Penumbra Speaks
I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm really looking forward to it.
September 9, 2009
The Book's Terms of Service
It's a reminder that books at their best are not just intellectual objects, not just aesthetic objects, but democratic objects.
And it makes me think of Salman Rushdie's claim:
Literature is the one place in any society where within the secrecy of our own heads, we can hear voices talking about everything in every possible way.
Go go go read it read it read it.
The Virgin and the Inkjet
Read this post for the sound of the words alone! The Late Age of Print and the Storm of Progress! I mean, it's positively Tolkien-esque. Living through the sickly mutant collapse of industrial media? Lame. Living through the Late Age of Print? Awesome.
Great stuff all around from Matthew Battles. And this part is so slick:
The public sphere's terms-of-service, the product of five hundred years of cultural contest, are a better deal than anything Facebook, Amazon, or Google Books has to offer. To keep them current in the digital age, as Richard suggests, we must turn around and face front.
"The public sphere's terms-of-service." Cool.
The only thing missing now is a comment from Tim Carmody, but maybe if we set the snare just so... and step back...
(Actually, I guess this was Tim's comment, really. But now I wanna hear him talk Walter Benjamin.)
September 8, 2009
The Atlantic Has a Good Month
I still have a soft spot for The Atlantic, the magazine that introduced me to, um, thinking. Certainly to the thrill of great journalism. It hasn't always been as interesting in recent years (James Fallows provides an epic ongoing exception) but wow, this latest issue is really good:
A paean to Al Jazeera, the only cable TV network in the world that actually offers "a visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously."
Love this one: the myths that led media companies astray. Because, "[if] we take Netscape's public offering in 1995 as the birth of the Internet era, on average over the next 10 years the biggest media conglomerates achieved less than a third of the returns available from the S&P as a whole. But even more telling is that these companies, as a group, had also underperformed the S&P for much of the previous decade, before the Internet upended their industry. Indeed, one aspect of the media business has remained largely unchanged for a generation: the lousy performance of its leading companies."
And the cover story, a powerful piece by Andrew Sullivan, written as a letter to George W. Bush about torture and "absolute evil"—clear, descriptive, urgent.
Auto-Tune the News Goes Mainstream (Sorta)
Auto-Tune the News feat. Alexa Chung! (Link goes straight to "God Bless America" break-down at the end. "Who is gettin' blessed? America. And who is gonna bless it? GOD.")
September 7, 2009
The Popular vs. the Acclaimed
Great, great, great AskMeFi thread: In the art forms you are experienced or well versed in, what kinds of stuff is notorious for being only liked by the experts, and what kinds of stuff is notorious for only being liked by less experienced or educated casual consumers?
Examples of artists (or works of art) beloved almost exclusively by other artists in their domain include Rothko, Linux, Cloud Gate, Yasujirō Ozu, Ernie Bushmiller, Rush, the screenplay "BALLS OUT" (pdf) and Paranoia Agent.
There are also some fun minor art-snob arguments, and mini-digressions on the nature of taste. As well as a terrific New Yorker essay I never read about the appeal of Charles Bukowski.
September 5, 2009
Jamais Cascio on devices that pay attention:
Imagine a desktop with a camera that knows to shut down the screen and eventually go to sleep when you walk away (but stays awake when you're sitting there reading something or thinking), and will wake up when you sit down in front of it (no mouse-jiggling required).
Or a system with a microphone that listens for the combination of a phone ringing (sudden loud noise) followed by a nearby voice saying "hello" (or similar greeting), and will mute the system automatically.
When you go down this road, extrapolating from existing abilities (accelerometers, face and voice recognition, light detection) to more complex algorithms, the possibilities get correspondingly more complicated:
What prompted this line of thought for me was the story about the Outbreaks Near Me application for the iPhone. It struck me that a system that provided near-real-time weather, pollution, pollen, and flu (etc.) information based on watching where you are -- and learning where you typically go, to give you early warnings -- was well within our capabilities.
Or a system that listened for coughing -- how many different voices, how often, how intense, where -- to add to health maps used by epidemiologists (and other mobile apps).
It seems to be almost an axiom that the applications of digital technology that are potentially the most beneficial for the aggregate likewise require the most information from the individual user - and therefore creep us out to the point where we're reluctant to put them into practice. There's got to be a name for this paradox - a digital analogue to The Fable of the Bees.
September 3, 2009
I was on a panel with Politkovskaya and Piers Morgan back in 2005, in Stockholm. She made both of us—rightly—seem like complete lightweights. Pure gravity and courage.
Colorful, But Not Cute
Two things I like about this interview with The Little Friends of Printmaking: a) the colors, and b) the process. Near the end of the post, you get to see every stage in the creation of a new poster. Pretty cool.
California, large peninsula in North America, north of the Southern Sea, inhabited by savages who worship the moon. Each family there lives as it pleases, without being subject to any form of government. The Spanish have built a fort there called Our Lady of Loreto.
Seems about right.
September 2, 2009
The Mortal Enemy of the Hyphen
The Sense Of America
The NYT reconfigured their Baghdad Bureau blog to make At War, adding reports from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere as well as Iraq. This post by Atheer Kakan, an NYT translator and journalist in Iraq who (along with his family) was recently allowed to emigrate to the US as a political refugee, is downright astonishing: emotional and observant, sentimental and clear-eyed all at once:
My family was starving, so the first thing we did after we sat down was to bring them some food. I went to a fast-food shop and I ordered lots of American food. There was something with melting cheese. I think it was Mexican. And lots of French fries. The cashier girl was asking me if I wanted things, and I was approving everything she said.
Eventually I had lots of food to carry to my family, who were desperately waiting for me. I put down the food and we started eating, and I looked to my children, who seemed to be enjoying their time, and I released another breath as I felt that I was doing the right thing for all of us. It wasn’t the food that I really enjoyed; it was the sense of America that food was carrying.
The airport was so busy; it looked like there was some school trip happening because there were some mothers saying goodbye to their kids and giving them some instructions about what to do and what not to do.
The teenage girls looked impatient and were mocking everything the mothers were saying. I imagined my son Abdullah and my daughter Malak doing the same thing in the future, and my heart was shaking as I laughed at the idea of how I would look like at that time.
A fat boy was sitting behind us. He seemed curiously eager to understand our language, but when he failed he was looking at us cautiously. His looks didn’t insult me, not because he is a kid but because it is time for me to taste the meaning of peace. I lay back my head and relaxed my eyes.
I hope Atheer is writing a book.
[For more on the poorly-rewarded heroism of Iraqi translators, see George Packer's "Betrayed" (which, also astonishingly, was written two and a half years ago).]
After the press conference we were locked inside the room for a while. It was very tense.
While we were inside the Prime Minister’s bodyguards tried to delete or confiscate film of the incident from the cameramen, but the journalists were all switching tapes quickly, like magicians, because no one wanted to lose such shots.
Later they let us all go, we do not know why. They just told us: “You can go, no one will try to delete your tapes.”
One of Mr. Maliki’s bodyguards called us ugly names because they thought that we were participating in a conspiracy, that we had all known about what was going to happen.
“We cooperated with you, and you betrayed us. You should have stopped him,” he said. Another guard told me me: “You are all Baathists.” He then raised his finger and said, “You are not allowed to say anything” in a very scary way.
Another tried to beat me after I objected because he was pushing an Iraqi journalist. I told him, “Why are you doing that? He is just a journalist.” He started calling us “sons of bitches” and other dirty names.
He also wrote a lovely essay about the historical imagination in Iraq. Kakan has a Sunni background, but briefly worked for the newspaper of a Shiite political party after the fall of Saddam:
We had many differences, discussions and arguments at that time. One of the most noticeable things about them, that I have never forgotten, was the influence of history on those who came back home after decades of marginalization, pursuit and execution.
Now that they were victorious and it was time for them to exercise the influence that they had been prevented from doing before, the one historical fact they kept in front of their eyes was that they would not let history repeat itself and let what happened after the revolution of 1920 against the British Empire happen again.
Then, their analysis was, that because the Shiites refused to deal, the British who negotiated with the Sunni minority and installed it in power, commencing nearly a century of Sunni dominance.
That historical ‘mistake’ of 1920 wasn’t just the obsession of Dawa. Many Shiites say that after this time they were marginalized and never treated fairly as a majority. Even now this historical fear still affects many of their decisions. They argue “we cannot neglect the political process, so that no one will ever turn around and take control again, after all the blood that we sacrificed.”
After a year I left and I carried with me all the memories about how the Shiites have suffered for centuries, and how history has influenced their positions and attitudes in the present time.
Iraqis adore history. You can hardly find an Iraqi who does not talk about the past in every conversation. Sometimes it prevents them from dealing with the present and planning for the future.
This what historians and sociologists say about Iraqis - they love history so much, to the level that they live in it.
Everyday Super Powers
This is a fun idea, and The Morning News' execution of it is crisp and super-readable: What's your hidden talent? Your... super power?
I liked this one, from Jessica Francis Kane:
You know how sometimes when you're trying to pour something from one glass into another, the liquid mostly just runs back down the edge of the first glass and spills all over the counter? Well, not for me it doesn't. Not a drop. I'm the daughter of a chemistry professor and this is my superpower. You have a half-pint you want to finish up in your pint glass so you don't look like such a lightweight? I'm the one you need. The trick is speed, angle, and confidence. You have to go fast, not tip slowly. You have to hold the emptying glass high, not touch it to the lip of the filling glass. Maybe it's a little thing, but aren't superpowers what we make of them? Lots of very thirsty people have been grateful for my help.
So what's yours? I'll start: I can fall asleep on any airplane, in any position, in under two minutes. Flight is my ultimate soporific. Now, great powers sometimes come great cost, and to tell you the truth, I have a hard time staying awake on planes if I have to. But more often, this is a blessing. Mmmokay see you guys in New York. Zonk.
Nobody's Talking About Polygons Here
The thing I like best about Seth Schiesel's NYT piece on The Beatles: Rock Band is that it's entirely about the game's cultural impact, the way it fits into our world. There's a bit about the play mechanic, too, for those unfamiliar with Rock Band. But nothing about the technical dimensions of the game—not the barest mention of framerate or polygon count or HDR lighting effects or clever combo systems or... ahhh.
I know this isn't unique, and game criticism has been getting a lot better in the past few years. But that the piece could hinge on this claim—
By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience.
In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.
—seems like a watershed to me. Even if he's wrong, I love the fact that Seth Schiesel can make that claim and then spend the rest of the piece trying to back it up.
Sherlock Holmes Had a Click-Through Rate of Two Percent
The author meets the cloud, episode one: naming characters with Google AdWords.
September 1, 2009
The Working Poor In America
... get stolen from, retaliated against, hurt at work and convinced not to complain, and paid less than the minimum wage, not just sometimes, but most of the time:
The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week...
In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay...
According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans... [W]omen were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.
Excuse me; I need to go punch something. And then maybe throw up. Then punch something else.
Run Run Run Run JUMP!
Ahhh! This is great: Canabalt, a one-button video game. It is pure style and velocity; I defy you to play the first 15 seconds and not feel a frantic thrill.
Personal record is 2,983 meters and it was all a gray blur by the end there.
I did a quick email back-and-forth with my friend Anastasia over at Ypulse about the Disney/Marvel merger. In short:
So that's my concern. Disney's been mining (and protecting) old IP for years. Acquiring Marvel isn't a move to balance that strategy; it deepens it. The tagline for a combined Disney/Marvel might be: "Finding new ways to sell you the same stories, again and again, forever."
The Second-Day Story
Even as the news business fluxes and freaks out, its history and culture continue to provide useful tools for thinking about the world. This probably shouldn't be a surprise, as journalists have been in the thinking-about-the-world business for a long time.
I think what we need is something a bit different from explainers. I don't have a term for it, except maybe for "anticipators." The reporter does not just report on what just happened, or even look back a stretch. The reporter needs a crystal ball, based upon solid research and continuing coverage.
The old PM daily writers knew how to do this and we may have to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear: that is to learn how to write a second day story on the first day. Keep up the great work, pal.
Emphasis mine. How great is that? "Write a second-day story on the first day."
First, it definitely flows into Matt's five concrete steps to improve the news—particularly number four, "track the unknowns."
Second, it's so much bigger than news! Isn't that what great science fiction is? Isn't that what we try to do here at Snarkmarket at least some of the time? "Write a second-day story on the first day."
P.S. Yes, I realize I just implicitly compared journalism to science fiction. Oops.
Adam Smith vs. Blackbeard
Are pirates socialists or capitalists? Lately, it’s become hard to tell the categories apart.
(Via Omnivoracious's neat meta-book-review.)
Einstein Would Love This Stuff
Georges Rousse is one of those terrific artists that creates large-scale illusions—2D shapes that appear to hover, almost dimensionless, in 3D space when your vantage point is just so.
Bet this video, at this moment, will make you smile.
August 31, 2009
I'm going to keep you apprised of new developments with this 3D sketching app Rhonda, just because I think it's such an exciting, novel visual tool. In this video, Andreas Martini exports the raw geometry from Rhonda—that's a new feature—and plays with it in a more traditional 3D program. The result is a neat little hand-drawn, day-glo neighborhood.
Reading Poems Out Loud, Or Not
I think I just realized something. I enjoy reading poems out loud. But I only enjoy it when I am the one reading. Stuff like this—A. Van Jordan reading a poem called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—it's like, it loses all of its poetry somehow. Gone. Drained.
Even a poet I love as much as Billy Collins—to hear him reading his stuff is just not edifying. I can barely hear how it's poetry, and not just an odd string of words.
Agree? Disagree? Am I missing a gene?
(The A. Van Jordan link is via Swindle, a neat poetry aggregator. Well, kinda neat. I like the idea, but the links are so devoid of context I can't always muster the interest to click on any. Good titles get me.)
Update: Some great recommendations, and a bonus MP3, in the comments.
Launch Emma, Part Two
This book trailer for Flatmancrooked's Launch Emma project (previously) features, against all odds, a giant metallic Veritech fighter (in robot mode, naturally) extolling the virtues of arts patronage. SOLD.
The End of the Modern Age of Comics
A few reactions to Disney's purchase of Marvel:
- Can we call this the close of the Modern Age of comics? Sometime during the early 00s—maybe even earlier—it seems like big corporate comics (DC and Marvel) shifted decisively from creating new characters and storylines to mining the creative capital they'd accrued over decades. (There's a fossil fuel analogy lurking here.)
- I'm not talking about relaunches and re-interpretations, a la The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne's Superman reboot back in the 80s. I'm talking about all you do is look backward—whether it's retold tales like Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man or recursive loops like DC's Infinite Crisis.
- Okay, I'm sure there are lots of little exceptions, but I really really want to pronounce Marvel and DC dead. C'mon, can't we just pronounce them dead?
- And what I mean by that is: They are no longer engines of creation. They now exist to license, merchandise, expand and exploit the IP they've been nurturing over the years. Which is totally okay! But...
- Who's gonna create the new characters?
(Hmm. That ended up being more suited to paragraphs than bullets. Oh well, not changing it.)
Another detail from the story: Marvel has just 300 employees. Think of that company's cultural "throw-weight"—not insignificant—and divide that by its headcount. Pretty impressive.
What have you noticed about comics in the last 3-5 years? Anything noteworthy? Anything that this deal crystallizes? Where is the medium going?
Amazing! My Kickstarter project hit 100% sometime after I went to sleep but before I woke up. What a thrill.
I posted a project update on Sunday afternoon, for the curious.
(Don't worry, it's not gonna be all Kickstarter all the time around here. I have a post on ancient coins coming.)
Update: Nice mention on the HarperStudio blog. I love that the post's author is, simply, "Intern." Thanks for the shout-out, Intern, whoever you are!
August 30, 2009
Hey, This is the Kind of Post That I Usually Write
Hmm, this seems to be happening more and more often—Snarkmarketers do something interesting and somebody else explains What It Means for Media. (Usually that's our gig.) In this case it's Eoin Purcell, with a really nice, complimentary post about my Kickstarter project.
And I especially appreciate it because I feel like I have totally written That Post before, and I know how jazzed I was when I was writing it.
August 29, 2009
I loved Virginia Heffernan's postscript to the Facebook exodus:
You’re not the first to think it’s creepy to have your personal life commercialized. Jürgen Habermas has been especially eloquent about this. Start with “The Theory of Communicative Action.” Copies are available on AbeBooks.com.
Just in case it's not clear why this is, um, unexpected AND funny, this is the sort of thing Habermas's two-volume book is about:
With this failure of the search for ultimate foundations by "first philosophy" or "the philosophy of consciousness", an empirically tested theory of rationality must be a pragmatic theory based on science and social science. This implies that any universalist claims can only be validated by testing against counterexamples in historical (and geographical) contexts - not by using transcendental ontological assumptions.
This is what I take to be the gist of Heffernan's recommendation: "No longer wasting time on Facebook? You finally have time to bone up on the Frankfurt School's critique of instrumental reason!" Sign me up.
August 28, 2009
An Ancient Math Tutorial... on YouTube
A friend's dad has posted a multi-part abacus math tutorial on YouTube. Okay, I know it sounds like you're going to click the link and see Rick Astley, but no, really: It's fascinating. I didn't realize that the first abaci—or the abacus precursors, I guess—were probably just drawn in the dirt. Use pebbles to count. Easy.
I love that the internet provides a place for super-geeky, super-in-depth projects like this.
Kindle 2020 Playbook
I like Farhad Manjoo's approach in this piece about Kindle competitors. Not: "Here, then, is a survey of the market!" but rather "Listen boys... this is what ya gotta do."
August 27, 2009
Matt and Kim
This performance has three stars: Matt, Kim, and the look on Kim's face. What a great look! I feel like it's the look you see on your friend's face when she's having fun in the kitchen, laughing at a funny joke you just told but also, like, really concentrating on dicing a tomato. (I mean that as a compliment.)
The New Patronage
I talked to CNET's Elinor Mills today about micro-patronage and my Kickstarter book project; here's the resulting piece.
I like this line:
Mozart may have had his patron Austrian prince, but he didn't have Twitter followers or MP3s to share.
(There aren't any Austrian princes subscribed to Snarkmarket's RSS feed, are there?)
Small World Pop
[I]f anything, rock criticism's become less populist over the last decade, as the spiraling decline of album sales makes it tougher to frame successful records as public events and easier to make niche sensations seem like they matter. And as we'll see, there were definite limits to the types of pop that could win over wider audiences.
On a personal level, of course, the idea of a pro-pop revolution feels right because it validates the many hours I spent arguing about it on the net. Making niche events feel somehow important is something the Internet is horribly good at: it turns arguments fractal, lets your bunch of digital friends and foes feel like the world when it no way is.
The So-So Firewall of China
I've read reports like this before: China has set up a massive internet filter inside its borders. A massive internet filter that is remarkable easy to circumvent.
It makes you wonder about the Chinese government's real objectives:
[...] it is not important for the CCP to make the wall insurmountable, just existent.
Is there—might there be—an ongoing argument inside the Chinese government about the optimum level of internet filtering or censorship in general? That's what's so fascinating about stuff like this; the official "thought process" is entirely opaque. (Compare to the U.S., where it is basically public.)
And I'm still on the hunt for more/better journalism about China in general. I'm talking not about "whoah crazy trend in China!" pieces but rather "this is how the Chinese government made this decision" pieces. But maybe those, uh, just don't exist.
Early prediction: This book, Research Confidential, is going to become an underground new liberal arts classic, ostensibly about one specific field but actually applying to lots more—almost like the "Understanding Comics" of social science. (If you understand the analogy I'm trying to draw there, I love you.)
The New Rules Still Apply
A small piece of an expanding pie is the biggest piece of all.
I feel like there should be a gorgeously-illustrated kids' book with this as the central message. Take small slices. Grow the pie.
D is for Digitize
I'm going to be on a panel at the D is for Digitize conference put on by James Grimmelman and New York Law School in October. It's keyed to the Google Book Search settlement—which is far from settled:
Everything about the Google Book Search project is larger than life, from Google's audacious plan to digitize every book ever published to the gigantic class action settlement now awaiting court approval. The groundbreaking proposed settlement in the Google Book Search case is so complex that controversy has outpaced conversation and questions have outnumbered answers.
We aim to help close these gaps.
I'm going to study up on the settlement between now and then, and I'll share as I go. First order of business is the under-publicized but super-interesting research corpus clause.
However, I should note that I was invited not on the basis of my legal scholarship... not for my media futurism... but because of a short story. Pretty cool!
Kickstarter Video Tips
P.S. I wrote up some video tips for the Kickstarter blog, too.
Ben Clemens maps per-capita carbon emissions by congressional district. It would be interesting to add rural/urban as a dimension, too—although maybe we get that data "for free" because it correlates so well with red/blue.
August 26, 2009
I'm Writing a Book (With Your Help)
I'm not going to make this a splashy, OH-MY-GOD-CLICK-THIS-NOW post because you're going to be hearing a lot about it over the course of the next two months. No, like seriously: a lot.
But, building on the terrific experiences of Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store and New Liberal Arts, I'm writing a book! And I'm using Kickstarter as the funding and community platform to do it.
A special Snarkmarket note: I'm as interested in the new process as I am in the new economics. How do you balance behind-the-scenes updates with secrets and surprises? What's a tempo that's engaging but not annoying? How do you effectively solicit ideas? (For some reason—I don't know why I'm so sure of this—I am just 100% certain that a crucial idea, the key to some puzzle, is going to come from my backers.)
There's a video intro, so come take a peek.
August 25, 2009
What Is The Price?
His first words are "How much time do I have?"
The Tape Wore Away, and We Discovered What Was Underneath
I was reminded tonight of my life in Detroit driving up and down Woodward Avenue. Up and down, up and down. My car didn't have a CD player, only a tape deck. The tape I had was one side dubbed with Björk's Post and the other side with Homogenic. So many ups and downs on Woodward that after two years the tape was deteriorating to the point where the song "Pluto" sounded like it was imploding rather than exploding. Once getting to "All is Full of Love," Björk's voice was sounding more like Stephen Merritt's than Siouxsie Sioux's. "Headphones" was an audio reading from Nick Cave. It was sad and that was some lonely driving around.
(That's some of Merlin Mann's clackity right there.)
Stairway to Heaven
This made me laugh. Not one of those "ho ho, what a clever piece of art" laughs, but one of the better kind. I think a lot depends on the scroll; I pray that your monitor is not so tall that joke and punchline are displayed together, all at once.
Unicorns Bringing Up the Rear
Here's your oh-yes-it's-real chart of the day: the incidence of various elements on fantasy book covers. Swords hold a commanding lead, of course. But who knew boats would do so well?
Fake Steve Jobs explains his non-thinking behind the new Apple tablet:
I started with the big questions. What is a tablet? Who will use it? And for what? If the tablet were a tree, what kind of tree would it be? And what of the word tablet itself? Ta is a Sanskrit root, for "gift." Blet is Proto-Indo-European meaning "to be perfect while lacking usefulness." Will you write on a tablet, or just read from it? Or will you just buy it and put it on your desk and look at it a lot and never use it at all? Or will you maybe carry it around and put on the table in restaurants to show the other humanoids in your tribe that you are more advanced and wealthy than they are, and they should fear you because you have powerful magic that they do not understand? You see what I mean? What is the anthropology here? And what about the ergonomics? Can you mount it on a wall? Will it have a shiny surface so that Macolytes can adore themselves as they use it in public? (Yes. It must.) The tablet must look and feel not like something that was made by man -- it must feel otherworldly, as if God himself made it and handed it to you.
Perfect for the Botnet Master or Drug Dealer in Your Life
Wow, I weirdly sorta want one of these shameless knockoff pseudo-iPhones. The real attraction is the space for two parallel SIM cards. I feel you'd want to stock those slots with a couple of throwaway numbers and, what? Do secret things!
August 24, 2009
The New Looks
Just some links to things that are visually stunning:
Jillian Tamaki: How to smuggle a dirty bomb.
Yuhiko Tajima's illustrations from 1976. Look at the use of black. And look at the top figure; it's everything Dragonball has ever wanted to be.
AA Models. Geometric architectural and geological forms. Pretty much totally unbelievable.
Composite Squiggles (link to embedded Processing applet). Wonderful color.
Anaelle by Stefan Gruber (link to embedded Quicktime movie). C-H-A-R-M-E-D.
Collage by Able Parris. "The beginning involves applying." (Also, is Able Parris totally a name out of a novel, or what?)
And now, the big finish... Shane Hope. His big colorful freak-out giant-sized prints are "[r]endered and built with customized versions of user-sponsored open-source molecular visualization systems." Love that. Science visualization software co-opted for goofy, rainbow-colored fun. Full details here.
His Compile-a-Child drawing are fun, too (example), but they hit you in the head—whereas the big, colorful stuff hits you in the eyes.
A Constant and a Variant
I love stories like these, from poet Robert Creeley:
In the late forties, while living in Littleton, N.H., I had tried to start a magazine with the help of a college friend, Jacob Leed. He was living in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and had an old George Washington handpress. It was on that that we proposed to print the magazine. Then, at an unhappily critical moment, he broke his arm. I came running from New Hampshire—but after a full day's labor we found we had set two pages only, each with a single poem. So that was that.
Good enough, right? Nope:
What then to do with the material we had collected? Thanks to the occasion, I had found excuse to write to both Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. I didn't know what I really wanted of them but was of course deeply honored that they took me in any sense seriously. Pound very quickly seized on the possibility of our magazine's becoming in some sense a feeder for his own commitments, but was clearly a little questioning of our modus operandi . What he did give me, with quick generosity and clarity, was a kind of rule book for the editing of any magazine. For example, he suggested I think of the magazine as a center around which, "not a box within which/ any item." He proposed that verse consisted of a constant and a variant, and then told me to think from that to the context of a magazine. He suggested I get at least four others, on whom I could depend unequivocally for material, and to make their work the mainstay of the magazine's form. But then, he said, let the rest of it, roughly half, be as various and hogwild as possible, "so that any idiot thinks he has a chance of getting in."
Creeley goes on then to meet Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, all of the Beats... it just kind of runs on from there, a glorious march through almost all of the avant-garde poetry of the 1950s, from town to town, magazine to magazine... Just kids cranking away on their rusty old handpresses, broken arms be damned.
(Creeley's entire Collected Essays is available at the U of California press site - just follow the link above.)
And Suddenly You Feel Like An Alien
Um. Question. When you buy a hardcover book—or have one foisted upon you (because maybe you're like me, and you vastly prefer trade paperbacks—do you immediately peel off the jacket and, like, throw it away?
Apparently people do this. Seriously? I cannot even imagine. I'm not sure why, as I obviously don't like those filmy coverings. But to throw one away? It feels... transgressive!
Is this really a thing that people do?
Update: Wow, I'm not the only one. The battle lines are drawn! It's dust jacketeers vs. trashbots, and I think the DJs are winning.
Two Weeks' Worth of Awesome
Gabe Askew's fan-video for "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear can conjure only one appropriate adjective: Sublime.
Here's an interview about it, and here's the thing itself:
I just subscribed to Jamais Cascio's future-y blog on Fast Company and in the subhed of the Google Reader subscribe page, it said:
That's just a bit of exposed CMS-speak, but hmm. It seems resonant somehow.
Hari Seldon, speaking to students across a glowing touch-table covered with flickering blue-green graphs: "But to predict future events, you must apply the taxonomy view." He swipes his thumb and the graphs rotate.
A student pipes up. Linus, the eager one: "But at what depth, Master Seldon? Three-hundred? Three-thousand?"
"No, no, no." Seldon smiles. "The depth... is zero."
Dance in Unlikely Places
I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now, quarter-aware of some of the funny conversations and interactions around me, so it occurred to me to link to this: Lily Sloan (my sister!) is an MFA student in dance at Texas Woman's University, and the project she's working on right now involves observing customers in a coffee shop—essentially building a database of motion and behavior—and then amplifying and remixing that into an "action score"—choreographing it.
You've gotta see the video of an early rough draft. It's simultaneously familiar and strange.
Hmm, now I'm peering around, on the lookout for undercover choreographers...
Sideloading Now Seems So Simple
Nilay Patel, on the whole Apple/Google/AT&T/App Store-avaganza:
I don't think there's any good reason the most interesting things about the App Store right now should be procedural details and the number of submissions each reviewer handles a day -- somewhere around 80, if you can believe it. I'd rather be talking about new and exciting ways to integrate the iPhone and other mobile devices into my daily life -- I'd rather be talking about apps. And the more I think about it, the only way Apple can get back to that is by doing what it should have done in the first place: allowing developers and users to bypass the App Store and sideload apps onto the iPhone themselves.
Every single App Store submission story we've covered boils down to the fact that Apple is the single point of control for the iPhone ecosystem, and it's simply not fast or flexible enough to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation we're seeing on the platform. Like it or not, what's happening on the iPhone is leading the entire tech industry, and Apple should be doing everything in its power to enhance that, rather than miring itself in scandal and regulatory investigation. If that means releasing some control over the platform, then so be it -- especially since allowing sideloading would make almost all of these problems simply disappear.
See also #8.
Away We Go
See Winged Chariot press -- I think it's UK only for the moment.
OutKast's B.O.B. is the best because it says YES to everything we are and compresses it to pure energy. It's our Good Vibrations, our Layla.
Robin (who clean-sweeps his tweets) had a nice addition:
Jeez now I'm listening to it again, and like Harold Bloom's Hamlet, it's a Total Work. EVERYTHING is in here.
Here's Pitchfork's Stuart Berman with a more expansive explanation:
"B.O.B." is not just the song of the decade-- it is the decade. Appropriately, the contemporary hip-hop act most in tune with the Afro-Futurist philosophies of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Afrika Bambaataa, wound up effectively crafting a fast-forwarded highlight-reel prophecy of what the next 10 years held in store. The title-- aka "Bombs Over Baghdad", a phrase that sounded oddly anachronistic in 2000, sadly ubiquitous two and a half years later-- is only the start of it. In "B.O.B"'s booty-bass blitzkrieg, we hear an obliteration of the boundaries separating hip-hop, metal, and electro, setting the stage for a decade of dance/rock crossovers. We hear a bloodthirsty gospel choir inaugurating a presidential administration of warmongering evangelicals. We hear André 3000 and Big Boi fire off a synapse-bursting stream of ripped-from-the-headlines buzzwords ("Cure for cancer/ Cure for AIDS"), personal anecdotes ("Got a son on the way by the name of Bamboo") and product placements ("Yo quiero Taco Bell") that read like the world's first Twitter feed. We hear four minutes of utter fucking chaos yielding to a joyously optimistic denouement (a point reinforced by the Stankonia cover's re-imagination of the American flag, which anticipates a White House set to be painted black).
Of course, there is a downside of being ahead of your time-- upon its release, "B.O.B." didn't even dent the Billboard Hot 100, and merely peaked at No. 69 on the Hip-Hop/R&B Chart. But unlike OutKast's subsequent number one singles ("Ms. Jackson" and "Hey Ya") "B.O.B." is too disorienting and exhausting an experience to ever succumb to over-saturation, and its majesty has never been diminished by ironic cover versions from cred-hungry rock bands. Because even after a decade that's seen the act of copying music become as easy as a mouse-click, and the process of performing simplified for toy video-game guitars, the future-shocked ferocity "B.O.B." is something that just cannot be duplicated.
The best place to enjoy "B.O.B.", of course, is at Snarkmarket 3000.
Technologies Don't Transform. Societies Do.
Quick-hitting today, but here's an important axiom from Dan Visel at if:book --
the social use of digital media is more transformative than the move to the digital itself
Visel's responding to Eric Harvey's "The Social History of the MP3":
The first widespread music delivery technology to emanate from outside industry control, mp3s, flowing through peer-to-peer networks and other pathways hidden in plain sight, have performed the radical task of separating music from the music industry for the first time in a century. They have facilitated the rise of an enormous pirate infrastructure; ideologically separate from the established one, but feeding off its products, multiplying and distributing them freely, without following the century-old rules of capitalist exchange. Capitalism hasn't gone away, of course, but mp3s have severely threatened its habits and rituals within music culture. There is nothing inherent or natural about paying for music, and the circulation of mp3s > through unsanctioned networks reaffirms music as a social process driven by passion, not market logic or copyright. Yet at the same time the Internet largely freed music from its packaged-good status and opened a realm of free-exchange, it also rendered those exciting new rituals very trackable. In the same way that Facebook visually represents "having friends," the mp3s coursing through file-sharing networks quantify the online social life of music by charting its path.
P.S.: This observation from Harvey's essay is a great coda to my "How the iPod Changed the Way We Read" --
This might be the most profound social shift of the mp3 era: hoarding and sharing music changed from an activity for eccentrics to the default mode of musical enjoyment for millions.
August 23, 2009
One of Those Old Words We Don't Use Anymore
It's not really the full content of Charles Stross's argument here that gets me; it's simply his use of the word "mercy." He connects Abdelbaset Al Megrahi with U.S. health care reform, and argues that the U.S. is suffering from a mercy deficit, and it's worth checking out. But really, I'm sort of inclined to ignore the argument, and just dwell on the word. Mercy.
Is that word like totally not a part of our modern lexicon or what? I'm rolling it around in my mouth, and in my brain, and it feels almost like one of those hard-to-translate words from another language. Saudade. Schadenfreude. Mercy.
Where does mercy live in our society today? What policies do we promote that have mercy at their core? What would that even mean? Not rhetorical questions; I find myself suddenly and sincerely puzzled by this.
The Part of District 9 I Didn't Like
Racialicious calls out District 9's Nigerian gangster caricatures:
So why the racist parts? Why can't the Nigerians just be people with logical motives like money and weapons? Why do they have to go out of their way to be ooga-booga savages? The film would still have held up without the narrative elements of cannibalism and interspecies sex. Why do the blacks have to be sexual degenerates who will eat filth and violate the oldest human taboo by committing cannibalism? The only reason I see is to shoehorn some cheap visceral thrills into the movie. It's lazy, sensationalist writing, and it diminishes the potential for intelligent, nuanced allegory. And it doesn't even make sense. Man, it pissed me off.
Yup, I agree. Not a reason not to see and enjoy the movie; but one should notice such things, and call them out.
Speaking of Lego Voltron
Besides the a priori awesomeness of Lego stop-motion and chiptune music, I think what this video brings to the table is: a) amazing camera work; b) many, many how-did-he-do-that moments; and c) stuff like this.
August 22, 2009
DIY Book Scanner
The future is here; it's just not evenly distributed.
P.S. Something I find myself doing more often these days: snapping a passage out of a book with my phone's camera and emailing it to myself. Now if only Gmail had a little built-in OCR module...
P.P.S. I seriously want to build one of these things.
August 20, 2009
My Global Cereal Arbitrage Scheme... FOILED
I love posts like this! I feel like I have an infinite appetite for them: Rice Krispies boxes from around the world. Sometimes they're... Rice Bubbles?
I want posts that aggregate: movie poster variations from the around the world; book cover variations from around the world; corporate identity variations from around the world; you get the idea.
And hey, is this blog idsgn scarily well-designed or what?
A Short History of Color Printing
So lately I've been thinking a lot about how color turns out to be a surprisingly important part of our experience reading printed books, and I came across this terrific website on the history of color printing, part of a special collections exhibit in the 90s from the University of Delaware's Morris Library.
I love this stuff:
Lithography was the first fundamentally new printing technology since the invention of relief printing in the fifteenth century.... Early colored lithographs used one or two colors to tint the entire plate and create a watercolor-like tone to the image. This atmospheric effect was primarily used for landscape or topographical illustrations. For more detailed coloration, artists continued to rely on handcoloring over the lithograph. Once tinted lithographs were well established, it was only a small step to extend the range of color by the use of multiple tint blocks printed in succession. Generally, these early chromolithographs were simple prints with flat areas of color, printed side-by-side.
Increasingly ornate designs and dozens of bright, often gaudy, colors characterized chomolithography in the second half of the nineteenth century. Overprinting and the use of silver and gold inks widened the range of color and design. Still a relatively expensive process, chromolithography was used for large-scale folio works and illuminated gift books which often attempted to reproduce the handwork of manuscripts of the Middle Ages. The steam-driven printing press and the wider availability of inexpensive paper stock lowered production costs and made chromolithography more affordable. By the 1880s, the process was widely used for magazines and advertising. At the same time, however, photographic processes were being developed that would replace lithography by the beginning of the twentieth century.
Interview with a Botmaster
Two things about this article on botnets are interesting:
- "The botmaster, upon realizing that one of his bots was suddenly sentient, appeared to assume that the researcher was a fellow botmaster and that their respective networks had 'collided.' The researcher worked to strengthen the botmaster’s assumption. Pretending to be a fellow botmaster, the researcher asked about the server software. Figure 3 shows the initial conversation with the botmaster." (Here.)
- Who's responsible for this bit of investigative cyber-journalism? Why, it's... Cisco. I think you're going to see more and more entities not traditionally in the business of journalism supporting and publishing stuff like this.
August 19, 2009
List of Hypothetical Objects
The themed lists on Wikipedia are the best. For instance: hypothetical objects.
Mary Shelley's creation has come unstuck in time. He lives in New York or did until recently. He passes Tower Records, a Duane Reade drugstore.
Sheck's novel acknowledges Google searches. Wikipedia. Redirections. All this webwork.
"A Monster's Notes" is an uncommonplace book. A site for revision, translation, error, confusion, melancholy. Limits of this method. Book is over 500 pages long, not without longueurs. (Could it have worked at 100 pages, at 50?) But heft becomes crucial to the experience. To exhaust the metaphors and the monster.
Are these my real notes or the ones I will publish? Which version has more energy?
Actually, the more I think about it, this might be the coolest thing I've read in weeks.
Death Star Over San Francisco
Hanging With Kafka
The new Franz Kafka Society Center is lovely.
One of my favorite bits from Kafka is a passage from The Trial:
He was slim but firmly built, his clothes were black and close-fitting, with many folds and pockets, buckles and buttons and a belt, all of which gave the impression of being very practical but without making it very clear what they were actually for.
That's totally fashion in 2009!
Caravaggio and the Cops
Caravaggio was no stranger to run-ins with the law. Accused of killing at least two men and having done several stints in prison, the painter put his own multiple arrests on canvas when he interpreted this Biblical episode known to every Sunday school student.
Also, think about how stunning the dark, stark look of this painting must have been at the time:
[Caravaggio's] style -- realism and high-contrast lighting directed with dramatic precision against haunting, black backgrounds -- changed art forever. His work made the Sistine Chapel's figures and religious scenes look like clumsy, antiquated, cartoons. In an age of intolerance, Caravaggio almost single-handedly killed off traditional religious art and made money off the Church in the process, all the while behaving like a savage.
"His work made the Sistine Chapel's figures and religious scenes look like clumsy, antiquated, cartoons." Whoah!
A Piece of the Planet, Pinned To Your Chest
This seems really resonant to me: a piece of jewelry cut to the contour of any place on earth. The silver version is too expensive, but it's a cool idea; they should offer them in plastic.
Rockin' Microsoft Fonts
Microsoft has taken an epic amount of abuse for Arial, their now-ubiquitous Helvetica knockoff. But, uh, did anybody notice... I think they took it to heart... 'cause the new Windows fonts are really good?
And they're not even that new, right? I think they've been out since 2007. Anyway, one in particular, Calibri, is just really nice. Of course, I think it's nice, in part, because it has many ligatures (see above).
Maybe this is old news and everyone has been joyfully typing away in Calibri and Consolas for years now. I'm just getting wise. And looking for synonyms with the "ti" word pairing.
Update: Actually, I totally remember when this Poynter piece by Anne Van Wags about the C-family came out. But it was all "ooh, wow, coming soon, maybe" and then somehow I missed the actual release of these fonts.
August 18, 2009
Is This Painting or Sculpture?
In case you can't tell, that's a 3D "painting" made from many closely-packed glass "canvases." How much do I love it? So much!
(Via Jon Hansen.)
Joburg Is the Future
The assertion from Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9:
I actually think Johannesburg represents the future. My version of what I think the world is going to become looks like Johannesburg. Every time I'm there, it feels like I'm in the future, so I was just very, very interested in the city.
Well, the film was so creatively rewarding to work on, it's got all my favorite ingredients, that if the movie's successful, and people want a sequel, I would happily make one. Because I would love to go back to the world of aliens in Johannesburg.
The Completely Understandable Spectacle of the Haul Video
Here's a new Viral Video Film School about haul videos, which you probably didn't even know existed. It's hilarious.
My first reaction to this (besides laughter) was: "Oh man, people are strange. I do not understand this at all. The internet is a machine for showing you how weird and unlike you other people are."
Which is, you know, a common reaction to a lot of things on the internet. But then I thought better of it, and tried to exercise a bit of empathy. And you know what? I'm thinking of the crisp joy of setting a big, boxy bag (the kind that stands up on its own) down on your apartment floor. I'm remembering the "fashion shows" we'd do as kids, trying on new outfits in succession as soon as we got home from the mall to show them off to our dad. I'm pondering the "I win at life" delight of snagging something awesome on super-deep discount.
And it makes perfect sense. Whew. Curmudgeonly moment avoided. Oneness of humanity affirmed.
The Writer & the Witch: Sold!
(We now return you to our regularly scheduled material intertextuality.)
August 17, 2009
Everybody Knows You Never Capitalize a Public Good
A note on style! Moments ago, @thatwhichmatter said:
WEBSITE/WEB SITE? Website is one word, lowercase. When used alone, as "the Web," capitalize. Some use "Web site" so check preferred use.
ThatWhich is right; it's definitely "website." But—and please do not award me any pedantry points; I only mention this because I carry a deep, nerdy conviction on the point—it's always "the web" and (for that matter) "the internet." No capitalization.
As I explained on Twitter:
"The Web" is like "The Taj Mahal": distinct & proprietary. "The web" is like "the sky": diffuse & open. Thus more accurate.
I don't think there's a single diffuse natural system that we capitalize: the sky, the ocean, the atmosphere, the planet, and so on. Right? And therefore, to the degree it's both descriptive and, perhaps, prescriptive too, let's use "the web."
The Spines! The Spines!
More great covers at Book Worship.
For just $10, you can buy a share in Emma [Straub]'s future. As recompense for that investment, you get a signed and numbered copy of her first stand-alone book (above is an excerpt and the fabulous cover featuring beautiful art by Raul Gallardo). Buy multiple shares, get multiple copies. Give them away to friends, neighbors, and libraries; help start a career.
—but really it's the GIANT GREEN BUTTON that makes it work. From now on, every innovative publishing model needs a giant green button.
This Is a Two-Word Post
And those words are:
August 16, 2009
Visualizing Usain Bolt
Aha! Data visualization is often pretty, but not always truly revelatory. I found the Guardian Data Blog's post on Usain Bolt—putting him in context—to be totally enlightening.
Turns out that Bolt is not merely fast. He is getting faster faster than anyone in the history of fast.
Just a micro-note: If you're using the ideabox iPhone web-app, a small change to the Google Forms "API" just broke the old version. It was an easy fix, though, and the updated version is available here (link goes to zipped archive).
Classifying Very Small Objects
August 15, 2009
"While My Guitar Gently Beeps"
If you were planning on not reading this week's NYT Mag cover story because it's, um, about Guitar Hero, reconsider. It's really good. And the photo at top is mesmerizing. (And whoever came up with the headline, I salute you.)
August 14, 2009
The Writer & the Witch Mini-Milestone
Just hit 50 copies of The Writer & the Witch sold! Not bad. The weekend is always slower, so I doubt I'll get to 100 by Monday, but you never know.
Yes, I know you don't own a Kindle. Tell your friends.
Aliens and Mermaids
August 13, 2009
Welcome to the Choice Factory
Analogies are like soups.
But, even so, an original, well-crafted analogy is one of the best tools that exist for staking out new mental territory. So, here's one that just flipped my lid. Kevin Kelly takes us way back:
A few hours after the big bang 14 billion years ago, the total freedom available within the fine mist of light atoms and zipping particles drifting in the universe was stifling narrow. The possible arrangements between them were dreadfully few. You could count the actionable options for a helium atom on one hand. Compare that prison to the universe one billion years ago (at least in the neighborhood of Earth), when life unleashed an overwhelming explosion of freedoms. Millions of species, each of them an engine of options, filled the surface of a planet with staggering choices.
Reasons why this is mind-expanding:
- "A few hours after the big bang 14 billion years ago." I know cosmologists talk like this all the time, but normal people don't, and every time I hear it, it's bracing. Like a glass of cold water in the face.
- "[T]hat prison." Wow. The primordial universe as a prison! Solitary confinement, with no
foodiron or wateroxygen. And it took us 13 billion years to dig a tunnel (or fashion a shiv?) and make our getaway.
- Earlier he says "[a] mind, of course, is a choice factory" and here he calls a species "an engine of options." I think that's such an interesting lens. +10 to the cephalopods, I think.
Can't get the prison thing out of my head. Maybe the Big Bang itself was the breakout? Jeez. Creation as jailbreak. Evolution as heist movie? I'm taking it too far. Go read Kevin Kelly.
The SHOCKING TRUTH About Health Care Reform!!!1
You have, no doubt, seen this site. I hear it was engineered in just a few days by a Republican web operative working round-the-clock with a team of Estonian PHP hackers.
The Health Care Meltdown
I've been an independent contractor for the past year, and my boyfriend's been unemployed. So I've been getting acquainted with the intricacies of the US health care system outside of employer-provided care, the universe affectionately known as the Wild West. Firsthand familiarity led me to seek a bit more policy familiarity - reading some books and think tank reports, following the health reform battle as it wends its way through Congress. And I've been itching for a while to create something that I hadn't been able to find - a stark, straightforward overview of why health reform is happening and where it's heading.
This week, when the hysteria seemed to reach a fever pitch, seemed like the right time to get this project done. So starting Tuesday night, I put together a quick little site, on the order of The Money Meltdown: DeathPanels.org.
Hope you enjoy it. Please send it to your crazy grandpa.
Compose Your Holes
Okay so first, Austin Kleon does the unthinkable, a photo-blockquote:
The part he's focused on is the line: "It's learning what to leave out. Like with good guitar players—it ain't the licks they play, it's the holes they leave." Then, Kleon writes:
It reminded me of Ronald Johnson, in his introduction to radi os, a long poem made by erasing words from Milton's Paradise Lost: "I composed the holes." (Johnson was quoting a composer whose name I forget at the moment.)
Composing the holes. That's what we do when we craft a piece of art, whether it's drawing or making a blackout poem.
It's often the holes in pieces of art that make them interesting. What isn't shown vs. what is.
The same could be said of people. What makes them interesting isn't just what they've experienced, but what they haven't experienced.
He goes on, and it's worth reading.
There's a really nice, subtle twist here. Our culture focuses so much on experience: soaking it in, racking it up, putting it to use. There are whole industries built around giving you crazy new experiences. So it seems pretty radical to say: Actually, skip it. Embrace the gaps in your experience, in your reading, in your knowledge. They're important, and in a way, productive.
(Via Zach Seward in Google Reader.)
The story of Les Paul's life is wonderful and ingenious. I liked this detail in the NYT obit:
Some of their music was recorded with microphones hanging in various rooms of the house, including one over the kitchen sink, where Ms. Ford could record vocals while washing dishes.
Now Available: The Writer & the Witch
My new short story, The Writer & the Witch, is now available on the Kindle (and the Kindle iPhone app, too, of course).
Max Barry Pulls a Dickens
[T]his is a significant step for a publisher, and I’m really happy Vintage took it. I didn't want to take down my online serial. That would be like leading my child into a forest and abandoning her there. Then, I guess, going home and building a new child based on the first one. And offering her in print form. Wait. This analogy may have gotten away from me.
Give it a peek if you haven't already.
I'm only now digging into Joshua Glenn's generations, recommended by Tim—but I gotta tell you, this is too much fun. Jason Kottke provides a handy menu; in particular, I recommend reading about the New Gods, the OGX, and of course: the Net generation.
That last label seems really right to me, by the way. It's become increasingly clear, based on nostalgia that's welling up even now in our late 20s, that this generation is going to find itself, at age 90, still swapping tales of the first BBSes we ever dialed, the first web pages we ever wrote. "And it was by hand, too!"
Now, I have no idea if this is true, but I like the sound of it:
Whereas OGXers and PCers enjoy brooding over the past, assembling fragments of past cultural moments into collages in various media, Netters take a less complicated approach. They just dig the past, and slip it on like a Halloween costume. (Paging Andre 3000, Amanda Palmer, Sisqo, Pink, and Jack White!) It's no longer the case that Americans in their 20s and early 30s want their reheated entertainments freshened up with air quotes. These days, they prefer taking it straight.
Funny, though, to see the list of notable births from 1979 (which is my year, too, if just barely):
1979: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Claire Danes, Kate Hudson, Foxy Brown, Rachael Leigh Cook, Mena Suvari, Rosario Dawson, Adam Brody, Brandy, Lance Bass, Pete Wentz, Norah Jones, Pink, Bam Margera, Adam Levine, Avey Tare, Nathan Followill, Alison Lohman, Brandon Routh, Chris Daughtry, Dan Auerbach, Nick Stahl. Elsewhere: Pete Doherty, Heath Ledger, Evangeline Lilly, Corinne Bailey Rae, Petra Nemcova, Sophie Dahl, Matt Tong.
Wait, is there seriously not a single writer on that list? It's all actors and musicians! Something is amiss, here.
August 12, 2009
Speaking of Airships...
Christopher Hsiang at io9.com just posted what looks like a terrific primer on steampunk novels new and old. This is perfect for someone like me; steampunk has always seemed right up my alley, but I haven't read much of anything.
August 11, 2009
Awesome story from MeFi. You know that Nat King Cole song "Nature Boy"? The haunting one that opens and closes Moulin Rouge? Turns out it was written by a vagabond hippie and left in an envelope for Cole after one of his performances. Much more in the thread.
New Magnanimous Arts
Any theories as to what this is? It's like somebody ran New Liberal Arts through Google Translate a few times:
A era of digital locals is careening towards college. A manage to buy is rebooting itself weekly. You have brand brand brand new responsibilities right away -- as employees, adults, as well as friends -- as well as you have brand brand brand new capabilities, as well. A brand brand brand new magnanimous humanities supply us for a universe similar to this. But... what have been they?
WHAT HAVE BEEN THEY?
The Bouncer and the Concierge
RN: [...] It is very complicated for an unknown writer to reach an audience of readers given the vast numbers of unknown writers out there. How do people find out about it? So I believe in the role of intermediaries. People always look to trusted friends who might be more expert or knowledgeable in a given area for advice about things [...] The question is, who are going to be those people. The model is going to shift from kind of a gatekeeper model to an advisor/service model. Or let's say from a bouncer model to a concierge model.
For some reason that just really struck me: from bouncer to concierge. From being in the business of saying (mostly) "no" to being in the business of saying (mostly) "hmm, how can we get that done?"
Feels very Kickstarter, doesn't it?
Google for 3D Models
So, this is very cool, even if you've never worked with a 3D model in your life, and never want to (but why would you never want to?): 3dfilter is Google for 3D models and textures. There are actually a surprising number of free model "warehouses" online, including one from Google. 3dfilter searches them all at once and presents the results clearly. It's pretty amazing what you can find.
And, uh, I'm not completely sure, but I think you might be able to assemble all of Manhattan from the results here.
So, it's confirmed: the tools exist for a Garage Kubrick to ply his trade. The only question: Where is he? (Be careful: That link goes back to an old 2004 post about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It might give you media vertigo.)
These Books Are, However, Not Free
Nothing has saved more lives than statistics.
You know, maybe psychohistory has been staring us in the face all this time...
August 7, 2009
A Much-Needed Hyphen Tutorial
HYPHEN? [1/3] Use hyphen to join 2+ words serving as 1 adjective before noun. (chocolate-covered pretzel, much-needed vacation)
HYPHEN? [2/3] But when they (compound modifiers) come after the noun, they're not hyphenated. (The vacation to Slovenia was much needed.)
HYPHEN? [3/3] Use a hyphen to qualify an upcoming hyphenated phrase. (The parrot is a ten- or eleven-year-old.)
Point [2/3] was still tripping me up. Thanks, @thatwhichmatter!
August 6, 2009
"I'm Doing This for Alison"
I was babysitting for my mom's friend Kathleen's daughter the night I wrote that first fan letter to John Hughes. I can literally remember the yellow grid paper, the blue ball point pen and sitting alone in the dim light in the living room, the baby having gone to bed.
I poured my heart out to John, told him about how much the movie mattered to me, how it made me feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood.
(I felt misunderstood.)
I sent the letter and a month or so later I received a package in the mail with a form letter welcoming me as an "official" member of The Breakfast Club, my reward a strip of stickers with the cast in the now famous pose.
I was irate.
I wrote back to John, explaining in no uncertain terms that, excuse me, I just poured my fucking heart out to you and YOU SENT ME A FORM LETTER.
That was just not going to fly.
He wrote back.
"This is not a form letter. The other one was. Sorry. Lots of requests. You know what I mean. I did sign it."
Alison and John go on to become pen pals: the teenager and the director of movies for teenagers.
This is like Life of Pi: I really want it to be true.
CJR's Got Your Back
Now this is what meta-media is for: Dean Starkman provides a smart, sweeping analysis of Matt Taibbi's feisty muckraking. His verdict is nuanced and not easily blockquotable, but the bottom line is: Taibbi can't be dismissed.
Starkman doesn't let him off easy, though. This is by no means central to his analysis, but it's a fun line (and also good advice):
The weakness of the piece is where others might find strength, its polemical nature and its hyperbole. When you call Goldman a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," you're in a sense offering a big fat disclaimer—this piece is not to be taken literally and perhaps not even seriously.
I actually didn't know about CJR's The Audit feature—of which this is a part—and I'm a new fan. This is really valuable work.
Wow. Just excising a line from A. O. Scott's review of Julie/Julia here. Talking about Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," he says:
The book stands with a few other postwar touchstones—including Dr. Benjamin Spock's "Baby and Child Care," the Kinsey Report and Dr. Seuss's "Cat in the Hat"—as a publication that fundamentally altered the way a basic human activity was perceived and pursued.
Ignore the impulse to say "uh wait, says who?" or nitpick the list, and focus instead on the broader observation, the fact that some books actually do just that: alter the way a basic human activity is perceived and pursued.
What a goal! What a reward.
I mean, they do, don't they? Is that still true?
Shadows of Shenzen's Future
I like this proposal for a new stock exchange district in Shenzen—it's got some really cool lines. (However, it lost the competition, so those lines can only be enjoyed on computer screens.)
Rupert Murdoch Forgets He Ever Saw That Crazy Flash Movie
Five years ago, Rupert Murdoch sat down at his computer and spent a few minutes watching a movie made by two journalism students. When he rose, he proclaimed that "he and his fellow newspaper proprietors risked being relegated to the status of also-rans if they did not overhaul their internet strategies."
Then he bought MySpace and the WSJ. He also bought a locket with Matt and Robin's picture inside.
But now, instead of following the clear lesson of that movie - that is, merging these two properties to make WallSpace? MyStreetLiveJournal? - he just might out-grey-lady the Grey Lady by contending to become King Cash on Paywall Mountain.
August 5, 2009
Feral Houses of Detroit
The Name is Shrdlu... Etaoin Shrdlu
It was Howard Weaver who introduced me to the phrase ETAOIN SHRDLU—the most frequently-used letters in English, in order, as lined up on old typesetting machines. World Wide Words adds a dimension: a list of appearances the phrase has made in literature, including this...
[...] a once-famous play, The Adding Machine, in which Etaoin Shrdlu was a character.
...to which I say: YES, of course Etaoin Shrdlu is, must be, a character. Possibly Celtic/Croatian. Possibly a poet. Possibly a spy. Possibly a poet/spy.
Somebody write a story starring media man of mystery Etaoin Shrdlu right now.
(Via my favorite new twitterer, @thatwhichmatter.)
Beyond Starbucks: Physical APIs
Some great ideas are sparking here, helped along by Robin's notion of a "Starbucks API." Noah Brier calls it a "physical API" (see also the smart comments) and Kit Eaton at Fast Company extends the concept (tongue-in-cheek) to Microsoft, Apple, and Twitter. But I like Drew Weilage's proposal at Our Own System the best:
The idea: create a "physical API"... of the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic. Copy their entire way of doing business and paste it into hospitals around the country. In a nicely wrapped package deliver their systems for decision-making, integration, coordination, and expertise. Include their human resources practices, innovation efforts, and technology. Import their employment model, their bargaining power, and of course brand recognition. This is a beta release so if anything is left out, it can be included in a later version.
Mix with water. Implement. Poof! Great health care!
Just think about it, Local County Hospital, powered by the Mayo Clinic or Our Lady Health Care System, supported by the Cleveland Clinic; it's a definite brand extender.
Seriously -- this has, potentially, amazing public policy implications. My dad, who's worked in the government for-practically-ever in Wayne County/Detroit (first at the jail, then in public health, then in lots of places), always used to stun his bosses, co-workers, everybody, because whenever they ran into a persistent problem or one they couldn't solve, he would get on the phone to people he knew in Oakland County, or Chicago, or Denver, to see how they handled it, who would in turn refer him to other people, etc.
You can get these information bottlenecks even when there's no competing interests, and nothing proprietary -- it's just hard (without an API) for people to know where or how to look.
A Fine Vintage In the Kitchen
I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff; Regina Schrambling praises vintage stoves:
So many other essentials in life are clearly improved in their latest incarnation: Phones are smaller and portable; stereos are downsized to ear buds; cars are safer and run on less fuel. But stoves are a basic that should stick to the basics: The fewer bells and whistles, the less need for bell-and-whistle repairmen. Motherboard is not a word that should ever be associated with the kitchen—put computer technology in a stove, and you're asking for a crash. Google "I hate my Viking" these days, and you get a sense of how many things can go wrong with techno-overload. Some of these ranges combine electric and gas elements, which is a recipe for trouble, as is microwave or convection capability. This kind of overdesign is what killed combination tuner/turntables—one goes, and the other dies from neglect.
I get kind of excited about things like self-updating blenders and coffee makers that I can control from my Blackberry, but there's also, sometimes, something to be said for saying, "You know, I think we've kind of figured this out. Maybe we'll work the kinks out on what's next in another few decades, but until then, let me have my dumb appliance."
This sort of dovetails with Michael Pollan's essay about Julia Child and food TV -- there's something about the convergence of cooking with electronics that transformed it into entertainment, that elevated it into something harder than most people could or would do at home, that left us with celebrity chefs and high-powered gadgets and a vastly reduced proportion of us actually cooking anything on them.
Which in turn makes it harder for technology to help us - we'd have to actually KNOW what we were doing to actually make a better (as opposed to shinier, or more convenient) device.
The Aliens Within
I hadn't really been following much news behind the Peter Jackson/Neill Blomkamp project District 9, but this is intriguing:
When its extraterrestrial passengers emerge, they are sequestered to a sprawling shantytown and shunned by even the lowest strata of human society. Amid an effort to relocate the creatures to a new camp, a corporate bureaucrat (played by Sharlto Copley) is infected with a virus that begins turning him into an alien, forcing him to confront his prejudices and his loyalties while he runs for his life.
If it all sounds like a science-fiction parable for South Africa’s segregationist history, Mr. Blomkamp, 29, says that is no accident. “The whole film exists because of that,” he said.
High time that alien invasion movies quit the trope where the global nature of the invasion boils down to B-reel of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, etc. When our visitors come, assuming they're interested in people at all, they're hitting Mexico City and Tokyo and Mumbai -- the Lincoln Memorial will be low, low, low on the list.
In other Peter-Jackson-related news, I also really liked Henry Jenkins's observation that among nerdly filmmakers, James Cameron is the ultimate geek (making movies because he loves creating and playing with the latest technologies) and Peter Jackson the ultimate fanboy (making movies because he loves all the movies and books he saw and read as a kid).
All Multi-Colored, Many-Faceted Possibility
OK, here's a little game. I cropped the top off of this image—the part with the text. Take a guess: What do you think it's supposed to be representing?
The answer—and many more amazing images—here.
(Personally, I think it looks like the internet.)
You Won't Find These on Threadless
Oh man, how much do I love these arcade boot-screen t-shirts?
Reminds me a bit of Gerhard Richter's stained-glass pixels. Or maybe it's the other way around.
One of my favorite blogpost genres is "here are two things that, for some reason, seem like they go together." Chris Coldewey serves up a good one: a mural in NYC and a music video featuring Lady Gaga.
I haven't been following L.G. at all, really, and while I'm not 100% enthusiastic about this video—it's really just homage, and doesn't push anything forward—I'm impressed by its over-the-top, throw-everything-at-the-camera fantasia. There are some indelible images in there.
They Are Safe
I'm so happy to be able to finally link to this. My god. I can't even tell you.
Current is wall-to-wall with Laura and Euna's work in commemoration, and (we don't usually do this) streaming it online, too. It affords you a glimpse of the courage that led them so close to North Korea in the first place.
You can also leave a message here if you like.
Welcome home, Laura and Euna!
August 4, 2009
How We Spend Our Days
Now I don't remember who pointed me to this; it's been abandoned in a tab all day. Best NYT infographic I've seen in many a day: a visualization of how Americans spend their time, hour by hour.
Update: Just looked at my RSS reader, and now I remember who pointed me to this ... everybody in the world. Geez.
Pepper LaBeija Has My Wisdom Teeth
Also from my I ♥ the Internet file, Kottke alerts us that the entirety of Paris Is Burning is available on YouTube, for the time being at least. It's probably fair to say this documentary changed my life. Somehow, confronted with a culture too rich and enormous for the ghetto it's been relegated to, the film manages not to gawk or exoticize or judge. Jennie Livingston takes the world of voguing and drag balls completely on its own terms, no small feat at the pinnacle of the AIDS epidemic in GLBT America. For a post-adolescent gay boy fresh out of Christian school, this was a revelation. I can't imagine that most people wouldn't find a completely different and equally valuable story in it.
The geniuses over at OverClocked ReMix have given FFIV the full OCReMix treatment -- an entire album of Final Fantasy songs, re-imagined in something other than midi. My first love, the "Red Wings Theme," has been transformed into "Full of Courage." (Incidentally, I think "Full of Courage" is a very valiant attempt, but it sadly neglects the song's longing in favor of its bombast; it's like John Williams' take on Nobuo Uematsu.)
The album's available as a free download, natch. Let me say it again: I LOVE the Internet.
If Plants Had Culture
I'm skipping the setup, so you might not understand what's going on here, but even so, check out these scenarios:
A weed appears in the Middle East with seed pods that are as satisfying to smash as a florescent tube. When smashed near the right kind of soil, chemical triggers set off a fiery light show. Youthful Tehran is overrun with the stuff.
In Paris, a species of flower predicts next season's colours and changes its children accordingly. A bizarre symbiosis occurs as fashion designers derive inspiration from plant and plant derives inspiration from the runway. All the big houses guard their greenhouses jealously. Chanel's radical "Agent Orange" spring line causes a scandal.
It goes on, and it evokes BLDGBLOG at his scenario-spinning best. Really a fun read.
Drifting Away, Like Doctor Manhattan
I've been spending a lot of time reading about autism lately, so this NYT piece on a slate of forthcoming movies featuring characters with autism or Asperger's syndrome caught my attention.
But isn't the great book/movie about autism really Watchmen? One character after another -- savants, to be sure -- driven by their obsessions, unable to make lasting emotional connections with other people, despite their best efforts to connect and identify with humanity?
From the NYT:
“The more I learned about Asperger’s,” said Max Mayer, the writer and director of the romance, “Adam,” which opened last week, “the better metaphor it felt like for the condition of all of us in terms of a desire for connection to other people.”
People with Asperger’s may have superior intelligence and verbal skills, and they often have an obsessive interest in a particular topic (astronomy, in the case of the title character in “Adam,” played by Hugh Dancy). But they tend to be self-defeatingly awkward in social situations, and romantic relationships can leave them at sea.
BOOK SQUADRON, ASSEMBLE
Hugo Chavez's revolutionary reading plan:
[A] key part of the Reading Plan are thousands of 'book squadrons.'
These are basically roving book clubs that are intended to encourage reading on the metro, in public squares and in parks.
Each squadron wears a different colour to identify their type of book. For example, the red team promotes autobiographies while the black team discusses books on 'militant resistance.'
Props to the BBC for going beyond the obvious smirky weirdness of this story and sharing a detail that's actually interesting/important:
"I think there's a great contradiction there," says Mr Garcia [who runs Random House in Venezuela]. "That a government which on the one hand is promoting reading, giving out Les Miserables in a public square, but doesn't allow the free importation of literature—not, it should be said, for any ideological reason, but because of currency controls."
August 3, 2009
It Really Is Snark Week
... but that doesn't mean Christopher Shea isn't right:
I'm as big a Julia Child fan as the next person... But how many pieces about Child's cultural significance can media outlets run before it starts to look as though reporters and editors have a financial stake in the forthcoming Nora Ephron movie about her?
All this gabbin' 'bout Shakespeare makes me wonder - what are the sacred, that is, foundational, texts for us? (Feel free to variously define "us.")
I mean Shakespeare's plays are one; I think the Bible is or ought to be another; The Simpsons, seasons 2-8; the original Star Wars trilogy; Sophocles; The Great Gatsby; Goodfellas...
I'm half kidding, one quarter reaching, and one quarter deadly serious; what cultural references are now, for you, and in your interactions with others, just assumed, like the way Moby Dick assumes King Lear, Paradise Lost, and the King James Bible?
August 2, 2009
Richard Scarry 2009
Love this new direction from Jillian Tamaki. Wouldn't it be cool if she did an entire Scarry-style book like this? What Do People Do All Day for the 21st century. Little anthropomorphized bears and alligators blogging and sequencing DNA.
The New Lexicography (or) Wordination Postenko
Sure, the Oxford thesaurus is gonna be great when it comes out. But what happens when the bounds of existing English past and present are simply not enough?
It's meant for naming products, websites, etc.—but I like the (silly) notion of an app like this as a general-purpose tool. Writing a blog post, need a new word? Done. It's parlineasy.
Note the crucial indicators that Wordroid provides: Is the domain available? Are there any search results for this word yet? Welcome to the new lexicography. (Prelexicography?)
August 1, 2009
Link Love and the Viral Spike
The BBC also points to an op-ed by Bill Wasik in the NYT, which I am drafting into service in our Snarkmarket Forum on Free (Related Topics Division). It's about the new "big break"—the viral spike!—which is made possible, after all, by the friction-less power of free.
Well, that and the internet.
For Sound, We'll Sync Up Shells
I have no idea where I found this—it was lurking on the far-left side of my tabs—and I sorta feel like it must have been planted there by some HTML fairy: Kelp, a poem by Paul Farley. Just terrific. Recommended: speak the words aloud and feel them in your mouth.
July 31, 2009
I'm still working on Newsweek's Trollope recommendation, and I love this bit of Trollope trivia:
Trollope wrote for two and a half hours each morning before he went to work as a clerk in the British Postal Department. The schedule was ironclad. If he was in mid-sentence when the two and a half hours expired, he left that sentence unfinished until the next morning. And if he happened to finish one of his six-hundred-page heavyweights with fifteen minutes of the session remaining, he wrote "The End," set the manuscript aside, and began work on the next book.
Wow. Routine and discipline seems to be the key to so much.
(Via Molly Young.)
July 30, 2009
Hey, It's Just Like Upgrading Firefox, Right?
Handy! Matt Yglesias provides a checklist of changes to our political institutions that would not require, you know, a revolution—but would still change things hugely for the better. I'm on board with all of 'em.
Hey! I See You Copying That
Over at Nieman Journalism Lab, Zachary Seward explains Tracer, a utility with two functions, one terrible and the other cool:
- Terrible: It inserts extra stuff into your copied-and-pasted text. So for instance, if Snarkmarket was running Tracer, and you copied this line, when you pasted it, it would also say: "Come check out the original post at Snarkmarket!" along with a link. T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E.
- Cool: Forget the copy-paste hijacking and focus on the analytics you could get from this thing. Seward writes: "But I'm much more impressed by Tracer's backend, which allows publishers to see which pages—and, even better, which parts of those pages—are most frequently copied."
Don't miss the graphics on the Nieman Journalism Lab post.
This connects back to some of the ideas in my post about tethered books—and has some of the same creepy/cool combo, too. But, on balance, I think more granular information about how people read and use text is really exciting—simply because it could help you make your text so much better.
New (Hampshire) Liberal Arts
I was just on New Hampshire Public Radio, live, talking about New Liberal Arts. Sure to be the buzz of Manchester this morning!
July 29, 2009
Mr. Penumbra Would Like This
Each week postliteracy.org presents visitors with a single image, which will often have multiple layers of meaning in its visual content. Embedded within that image, though, is textual content hidden through steganography. The audience must decode the hidden text [...] in order to "read" the entire message.
And this sounds pretty new liberal artsy, doesn't it:
Thus, each post at postliteracy.org requires polymodal literacy—here, visual, interactive, computational, and textual literacies—to decode its full meaning.
Helpfully, they link directly to the tools required to find the hidden messages.
Quick Visual Links
A mixed bag of really cool sculptural stuff by Maryam Nassir Zadeh over at Covenger + Kester.
And PJ just keeps serving up the good stuff:
City of Inference
So, this research team at U of Washington totally out-awesomed PhotoSynth by building amazing point-cloud 3D models of monuments and cities from Flickr photos.
Only One Thing
I like this format. A bunch of designers complete this sentence—
So you’re thinking about becoming a designer? If I could tell you only one thing about going into the field, my advice would be...
—and their responses are presented as pithy one-liners paired with longer explanations in video. Random-access mixed media. This is what the web is for!
My favorites: "Hire the one who can write" and "Focus: Find a topic, [..] find a method and focus all your efforts on it."
The Most Brilliant Apps (Not Just the Best-Selling)
Question: Do you know of any blogs, or other sources, that do a good job tracking brilliant ideas in iPhone app design? Stuff like that great subway-finding app but not so widely linked; stuff that's less whoahhh and more ooh, nice, perhaps. (That link is to Daring Fireball, and yes, I know that's a good source; but I want something that goes deeper on actual iPhone app design and ideas.) I feel like there ought to be a dozen iPhone nichepapers out there. What are they?
July 28, 2009
'Maybe Media Won't Be a Job At All'
In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part-time job. Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby.
Backing up, I love how Anderson comes into this Spiegel interview with guns-ablazing:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let's talk about the future of journalism.
Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don't use the word journalism.
SPIEGEL: Okay, how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.
Anderson: Sorry, I don't use the word media. I don't use the word news. I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.
SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use?
Anderson: There are no other words.
Awesome! (Update: Apparently I am the only one who thought this was awesome. That's OK.)
There's a great comment thread growing out of Matt's fun-is-free post—it's worth checking in.
Think Like a Pirate
Wow. Wired's interview with a Somali pirate is amazing. Very matter-of-fact. He thinks like a CEO:
Once you have a ship, it's a win-win situation. We attack many ships everyday, but only a few are ever profitable. No one will come to the rescue of a third-world ship with an Indian or African crew, so we release them immediately. But if the ship is from Western country or with valuable cargo like oil, weapons or then its like winning a lottery jackpot. We begin asking a high price and then go down until we agree on a price.
July 27, 2009
The Nichepaper Manifesto
How is Umair Haque so good at this?
But I have never seen them so seamlessly and stylishly combined. Part of it is simply the language: Haque has a gift for punchy parallel structure. Just scan down his list of bold directives—"Knowledge, not news," "Provocation, not perfection"—and tell me you don't want a nichepaper, like, now.
I'm kinda into his neologism "commentage," too.
Anyway, if you are even 1% interested in this stuff, go give him a glance.
The Feed Giveth, the Feed Taketh Away
Pieter's description of his reading habits resonated with me. I, too, subscribe to an info-megaton of feeds, and derive a sort of cruel pleasure from scrolling through them at warp speed. If you don't catch my eye, too bad for you. Mark all as read.
But then, over at Laura's site—which is crisp and appealing—I find a link to Jon Kyle's, which is amazing. Look at that quote treatment. That is the best quote treatment I have ever seen on the entire internet.
Now I'm imagining those quotes, completely stripped of style, in Google Reader. Mark all as read.
Jon Kyle's site just keeps going. It's stunning.
What do we do about this? On one hand: the demands of scale; the great, brain-tingling opportunities of aggregation. On the other hand: the richness of a great frame; all that the setting adds to the stone.
I don't even really have a dream solution. These two values feel really fundamentally incompatible to me. Scale vs. specificity.
Of course, I'm not just talking about a few beautiful sites; I could put those in a bookmark folder and check 'em every so often. I'm talking about the rapidly-growing regime of words and images as portable, style-free info-bundles—which has a lot going for it!—vs. a world where words and images are fundamentally linked to their design and context, because without them they'd just be lame quotes in a Google Reader window.
Make It More Swedish, Will You?
What happens when mass-market book stores don't matter as much anymore?
In the Year 3000 They'll Wonder: Why Do All Books Have Soundtracks?
Wouldn't it be funny if the next-gen e-book arrived... as album liner notes?
July 26, 2009
A Happy Marriage
There are a lot of book recommendations coming up this week. Here's a small one to start:
Most of all, I enjoyed his rendering of New York in the 70s; it felt like a dream. I think that's the point, because the early-2000s story he cuts back and forth to is, on the contrary, entirely real, and entirely harrowing.
There are books that you plow ahead with, fulfilling your readerly duty, and then there are books that hold your attention—books with a certain magnetism, or gravity. A Happy Marriage has both.
Oh and P.S.: I read it on the Kindle.
What Do You Buy When You Buy a Kindle?
I actually think Nicholson Baker's assessment here is pretty fair:
Here's what you buy when you buy a Kindle book. You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon.
I used to tell people that you should buy the Kindle if (and only if) you satisfy all of these conditions:
- You read a lot.
- You travel at least a medium amount.
- You are interested in all this meta-media, future-of-books stuff at least a little bit.
But now, with the availability of the Kindle iPhone app, and the promise of Barnes & Noble's new gambit in partnership with Plastic Logic... I'm not sure. I think I'm going to change my Kindle recommendation from BUY to HOLD.
I'm definitely glad I have one, but you can tell this whole thing is just getting started.
Oh yes. These Swedish book covers are quite fun.
I'd play a video game featuring these characters.
And I sorta desperately want to know the plot of this one. Mad moose attacks?
Suicide in Shenzen
After being interrogated by his factory managers for losing an iPhone prototype, Sun Danyong jumped from the twelfth floor of his dormitory at 3:33 A.M., on July 16th. He left behind a poignant electronic trail that provides one of the most revealing views that I can remember into life in the factories of southern China: who works where, why, and in what conditions. Much of this remains unconfirmed, but the dramatic story contained in text messages, instant messages, and bulletin-board posts would never have been recorded ten years ago.
The rest of the post is really fascinating; recommended.
July 25, 2009
Just Another Walk Down the Aisle
Just watch this video. There are many subtle things to like about it, but I don't want to give away the surprise. You won't have to wait long; the fun starts at 0:30.
July 24, 2009
A freak solar event "sterilizes" the half of the planet (people, animals, etc) facing the sun. What happens?
Okay, it's weird and bleak. But I think devoting even a few minutes of hard thought to bizarre scenarios can make you a much better thinker. It's counterfactual cross-training.
By way of analogy: I always tell people that blogging is useful, even if nobody's reading, because it forces you to have an opinion on things. You don't realize how blankly you experience most of the stuff you read every day until you force yourself to say something—even something very simple—about it.
So I think regularly engaging in a bit of counterfactual thinking can provide the same benefit—and maybe on a more macro scale. The trick is to be realistic: You're not trying to dream up a pithy one-liner, but rather a sequence of headlines that you really think might unfurl over the course of days, weeks, years.
Tyler Cowen thinks this kind of thinking is useful, too:
To some of you these mental exercises may seem silly. Indeed they are silly. But what's wrong with silly? Such questions get at the stability of social order, the sources of that stability, and the general importance of demography and intergenerational relations. Those are all topics we don't think enough about. Because we're not silly enough.
And click through to see what he thinks happens next.
Showdown in the Public Domain
I'm a little late to the party on this, but I love it:
- Some new Jamba Juice ads rip off "Get Your War On."
- David Rees issues a funny call-to-arms.
- But this is my favorite part: What's the law at work here? Is it copyright, even though "Get Your War On" is built on public-domain clip art? Is it trademark? "Trade dress"? Things get nerdy, fast, and I like it.
Oh man, how can I get in on the alpha test for this? Rhonda, a crazy hybrid 2D/3D drawing app.
New Liberal Arts in the Boston Phoenix
Woohoo! Mike Miliard provides a fine write-up, complete with commentary from Tim, in the Boston Phoenix.
July 22, 2009
This Is Not CGI
Found this via Ezra Klein, whose admonishment to watch all the way to the end for the Pixar-worthy octopus feat is worth heeding:
Love the rough-textured, rainbow-bright work of Edward McGowan.
Wednesday Comics Report
So I did go out and snag Wednesday Comics, as I mentioned. My verdict? Beautiful, inventive, and fatally flawed.
But the flaw is so simple! You see, Wednesday Comics #1 is comprised of sixteen giant pages. And each of those pages is a separate story. This renders it almost completely unreadable. Just as you build up a modicum of reading momentum—TO BE CONTINUED. And they're not even good to-be-continueds, because really, how could they be? Nothing has happened yet!
It's only worth mentioning because the whole thing would have been so sublime if they'd simply focused each issue on two or four stories instead of sixteen. I'm sure there's some sort of production logic at work here—Paul Pope is still madly scribbling out the back half of his Adam Strange story somewhere—but even so. The product, as is, is broken. It's fine fodder for "trends in media!" talk—and you know I love that—but as an actual reading experience it's no fun. Fresh formats are great, but you gotta get the fundamentals right, too.
However! A super-jumbo-sized trade paperback, collecting all of the issues, released around Christmastime, would be a fine thing indeed. I'll wait for that—and buy it with relish.
Lev Grossman's notes from Azkatraz, the giant Harry Potter convention held right here in San Francisco this weekend past. Here's an interesting hypothesis on the conjoined history of Harry Potter and the internet:
There was a great panel on the history of Harry Potter fandom online, starring Melissa Anelli, founder of The Leaky Cauldron and author of Harry: A History. She made an interesting point, which is that because Harry and the Internet both became massive mainstream phenomena at around the same time, and because Harry fans are kind of amazingly determined and resourceful, they wound up establishing a lot of the rules and social forms of online fandom in general. Harry Potter fandom is now the template for all future fandoms.
There are only so many delicious, refreshing Harry Potter-themed novelty cocktails I can drink and still feel like a man. There is no hangover like a Felix Felicis hangover.
My friend Scot just posted his stop-motion opus. It's one of those wonderful animations where heretofore inanimate objects—in this case, old camera parts—come to life, golem-like.
Two things worth mentioning:
- It's not a one-trick pony. This animation keeps surprising you with new scenes, new visual ideas.
- Notice how good, and how crucial, the sound design is!
Check it out: The Falcon.
July 21, 2009
Listen, I know you subscribe to today and tomorrow too, so I should stop posting links here, because of course you have seen them already. But come on, aughhh where does he get this stuff? So beautiful and unexpected.
July 20, 2009
You're Gonna Need New Drivers for That Font
Oh get out of town.
The letter-forms for a new typeface, traced out by a plucky little Toyota curling and careening below a camera. Just watch the videos.
And now you can even download the font arghhh every nerd neuron is firing at once!
The Trinitron Uprising of 2009
Aha. Television's master plan, finally laid bare.
You know what they say: In Soviet Russia... television watches you.
Media and the Moon
Wow. Props to Slate; this video is sharp, funny, and deflating. It answers the question: How would TV news cover the moon landing if it happened today? Sigh—the sad thing is, I think they've got it right.
July 19, 2009
Build Me a Bridge to the Stars
Tom Wolfe on NASA's philosopher deficit. Resisted a blockquote, because the whole thing has a pleasing arc and totality.
Mark Sample spots a review of a David Foster Wallace collection authored by a Don Delillo character. McSweeney's? Nope. It was published in the book review section of the academic journal Modernism/Modernity.
Update: M/M editor Lawrence Rainey and former managing editor Nicole Devarenne 'fess up [kinda] in an open letter to Mark.
July 17, 2009
The Fine Art of the Cut
Check out this reel of short, stark animations. You know what makes it work for me? The sudden cuts to black. Almost every single one of the animations cuts out before you've seen enough. It's totally addictive! Talk about snack-sized media.
Like, this part here, "The Mad Gremlin"—it's barely an animation at all. More of a moving comic book panel. Really dig it.
Apparently it's related to this game—Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet!
Settlers of Snarkmarket
This is a great idea! Gamecrafter is Lulu for board games.
And particularly I'm excited by the idea of a custom, one-off board game—talk about the ultimate Christmas present.
They'll even sell you the pawns.
July 16, 2009
The Robots of Wall Street
Story idea, spurred by an odd and entertaining NYT op-ed.
Yes, everybody knows that these days, most trades on Wall Street are between computer programs. But that's such a lame generalization. What kind of computer programs? What's the taxonomy? What do they look like?
The story would basically be a slide-show. Each slide would focus on one flavor of financial app. It would feature, ideally, an actual screen grab—fully annotated—or if that's not available, a wireframe, based on descriptions and sketches.
It's likely that many of these apps don't have user interfaces at all, because they don't have users. They're trading daemons—headless market-makers. In that case, I want to know how they think. Imagine a diagram of the basic logic loop that propels a trading-bot through the day. I'm not looking for Goldman Sachs' secret sauce, here; I want computational finance 101.
The screen-grabs are the key, though. Maybe I'm weird, but honestly, I'm sorta desperate to know what this program looks like:
[...] the finance industry’s standard software for structuring bonds based on pools of mortgages (yes, you may have heard of the unhappy consequences of this process) [...]
This is one of my favorite kinds of stories (in theory) because a) this knowledge is all out there, and widely distributed—just not crisply packaged, and b) to lots of people, what I'm suggesting would sound completely absurd and boring, because "the finance industry's standard software for [etc., etc.]" is just the terrible, frustrating program they use in their job every day. Yes! Both are good signs: It means there's an opportunity for journalistic arbitrage!
ProPublica in Perspective
I've been semi-following ProPublica, and I'm an unabashed Amanda Michel fan, so I found this review of the organization's work-to-date helpful. Bonus: It's written by Bill Rappley, Mediaite's 85-year-old columnist. Talk about context.
I think DC's Wednesday Comics project sounds really fun. Every week this summer, there's a new issue—and even though each one sits on the shelf at normal comic-book-size, it actually folds out twice to 28" × 20". That is big. Seems like it would feel really exciting to get one in your hands... sit down... slowly unfold it... "Whoah! Batman!"
Each issue has a bunch of stories from various writers and artists. Here's a peek at Paul Pope's contribution, starring Adam Strange.
Here's my beef: Why can't I order these online? Or subscribe to the whole series? I am reduced to scrounging on Amazon—thin pickings, and all at a hefty markup.
Update: Just caved and called Isotope here in SF. It is an awesome comic shop. Still want to subscribe, though.
July 15, 2009
Ocean of Storms
It's a cliche at this point: You walked on the moon. Now what?
But even so, these photos of Apollo astronauts—then and now—are incredibly compelling.
Related: I'm now (finally) reading Moon Dust. Even just fifty pages in, it's terrific.
New Liberal Arts Unboxing
Unboxing. The public documentation of possession. There's an essay waiting to be written about what it means—about consumption, sharing, voyeurism, recognition of personhood in the face of mass production, blah blah blah—but I will not be the one to write it.
Instead, I will simply report: It is totally awesome to see people unboxing something you made!
Here's Jon Hansen's snap, which has the distinction of being the first one posted.
Here's Kiyoshi Martinez—looking, as a twitter-pal pointed out, sort of like a 17th-century Dutch oil painting. The dark glimmer!
And here's Snarkmarket favorite Howard Weaver, who displays New Liberal Arts in context. Look at all those books!
Here it is on another bookshelf—"attention economics" contributor Andrew Fitzgerald's, in fact. Wow. Good company there.
What Fun To Wreck [Language]
Conceptual writer Kenny Goldsmith introduces a new issue of Poetry devoted to probably the most divisive no-va-nt-guar-d writing in generations:
Our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers. What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age? These two movements, Flarf and Conceptual Writing, each formed over the past five years, are direct investigations to that end. And as different as they are, they have surprisingly come up with a set of similar solutions. Identity, for one, is up for grabs. Why use your own words when you can express yourself just as well by using someone else’s? And if your identity is not your own, then sincerity must be tossed out as well. Materiality, too, comes to the fore: the quantity of words seems to have more bearing on a poem than what they mean. Disposability, fluidity, and recycling: there’s a sense that these words aren’t meant for forever. Today they’re glued to a page but tomorrow they could re-emerge as a Facebook meme. Fusing the avant-garde impulses of the last century with the technologies of the present, these strategies propose an expanded field for twenty-first-century poetry. This new writing is not bound exclusively between pages of a book; it continually morphs from printed page to web page, from gallery space to science lab, from social spaces of poetry readings to social spaces of blogs. It is a poetics of flux, celebrating instability and uncertainty.
Jay-Z and The Fog of Rap Battle
Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy goes there:
See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyoncé. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?).
But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power, as realists such as my colleague Steve Walt or liberals such as John Ikenberry would warn, and instead exercise self-restraint?
But here's the other question: are Jay-Z and Beyoncé really in the same game? What about The Shins? In other words, maybe one set of actors are in the sphere of realist power politics, and another set are acting under a completely different set of assumptions - maybe idealist, maybe postmodern, maybe not based on the nation-state/single artist framework at all.
This was always my issue whenever we examined competing explanatory frameworks in political science: the assumption that whatever assumptions you made, they had to apply to all actors equally and individual actors consistently.
To me, it seemed (and seems) perfectly consistent to suppose that rational actors could be operating under different frameworks of rationality at different times, or even in some instances scuttling rationality altogether due to misinformation, contradictory internal forces, or misguided teleologies. "You can't build models that way," my freshman poli sci teacher said, half-joking but half-serious. No, I guess you can't.
July 13, 2009
Ferguson/Fallows on China
This 75-minute dialogue between Niall Ferguson and James Fallows, about China and its relationship with the U.S., is nuanced, detailed, and thought-provoking.
(My view here is colored by the facts that a) James Fallows has been my favorite journalist since I started reading his Atlantic articles back in college and b) I want to somehow, somehow, learn to speak like Niall Ferguson. Scottish accent and all? I think so.)
Anyway, Ferguson and Fallows really argue here—in the way two smart people argue over dinner, not in the way that people argue ("argue") on cable news. It's always surprisingly thrilling to see people actually think on camera.
To set it up, the point they don't dispute is that, right now, the world's most important entity is "Chimerica"—the blended economies of China and America. At this point, even after the economic shocks of 2008 and 2009, they are still inseperable, and incoherent without each other.
Ferguson and Fallows disagree on what happens next. Ferguson says Chimerica is doomed, and get ready for a painful disruption. Fallows, fresh off of three years living in China, is more optimistic—he thinks the relationship is flexible, durable, and many-faceted.
I saw Niall Ferguson debate Peter Schwartz here in San Francisco, and all I gotta say is: I wouldn't want to face off with this guy across a stage. He is erudite, to be sure; but he also carries and deploys his erudition in a particularly cutting way—like an Oxford don James Bond.
Anyway, I emerged from the 75 minutes mostly on the side of Fallows—but I always appreciate Ferguson's gloomy, ultra-realist point of view. Also, Fallows follows up here.
The question is the subject of a contest from Dwell magazine and Inhabitat. I'm pretty curious how Snarketeers would answer this question.
Ordinary Everyday Crisis vs. Cartoonish Super-Crisis
California, strapped by an insane budget crisis, is issuing IOUs to its employees and creditors, and will soon likely be willing to accept these IOUs as payment for taxes and other state obligations. Nothing like a little extra-constitutional currency creation to spice up the economic picture of the U.S.A!
The Economist's Free Exchange offers this take on the consequences:
The highly uncertain long-term value of the IOUs may make anyone reluctant to accept them, preventing them from rising to de facto currency status. On the other hand, if enough people and institutions begin accepting them, Gresham's law may apply. Consumers may be anxious to hold on to dollars and spend their funny money wherever they can, until circulation is dominated by the IOUs.
But then, of course, economies that do business with California would have a demand for the IOUs, and other states—Nevada, and Oregon, say—or countries might begin accepting them. A constitutional challenge likely wipes all this out, but it is interesting to consider.
Another question—what to call them? I nominate the term "props", in honour of the ballot initiatives which landed California in this mess in the first place.
Meet The New Fetish, Pt. 2
If you want people to know what awesomely supercool books you are reading, you can use the internet to tell them.
Ezra Klein, "Can the Internet Be Your New Bookshelf?":
This is one of those spots where I imagine social networking really will save us. Back when I was using Facebook more, I was a big fan of Visual Bookshelf, which let you display what you were reading and, when you finished, let you rate and review the books. As a matter of signaling, it's quite a bit more efficient. Your friends don't have to catch you in a literary moment on the Metro. And being able to browse the collections of all my friends was a delight, and offered occasional surprises that helped me known them better: former football teammates who were now reading John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, and libertarian friends who listed "The Grapes of Wrath" as one of their favorite books of all time.
I also found that displaying the contents of my bedside table helped counteract my tendency to get distracted 90 pages in and start something else. Now that the books were hanging out on my profile, I felt more pressure to finish them. Somehow, simply leaving books around my room didn't carry the same silent reproach. In fact, I sort of miss that pressure. Which is why I've added a little Amazon widget that does much the same thing to the right sidebar. Technology!
July 12, 2009
The New York Review of Ideas
High, Meet Low
What's that? You want blog entries that seamlessly mix high and low, a little monocle gesture to go with your Michael Jackson moves? And Matt Thompson and Tim Carmody aren't enough for you? Okay fine. Another champion of the form is Nico Muhly. His writing communicates enthusiasm that's both educated and unabashed—a balance that's actually pretty hard to strike.
This whole post is a delight. (And it really does include Michael Jackson moves.)
I love cultural arbitrage: taking words, images, ideas from one place on earth (or time in history) and importing them into a new context where they're suddenly fresh and striking again.
This is, of course, common practice, so just like financial arbitrage, it takes a lot of work to stay ahead of the pack. And systems like Ffffound and Tumblr have become great levelers: They're like financial markets, automatically "pricing in" new information about what's cool. Oh, you like that retro-chromatic look? We got a hundred a' those.
So usually, when you find a good source you keep it secret. But I'll share this one, via Paul Pope. It's a collection of super-weird book illustrations. I mean seriously, what is this stuff? It defies genre. And yet, much of it would look good on an Urban Outfitters tee.
See also: Slovenian event posters.
Amazon vs. Paypal
Oh, and while I'm talking up Google forms, I probably ought to report back the result of my one-question survey. With a sample size of 110, the result was 76% in favor of an Amazon.com product page and 24% for Paypal.
July 11, 2009
Behold, the Dark Knight of... Civic City?
Wow. Gotham City was almost... um:
Batman co-creator Bill Finger explains: "Originally I was going to call Gotham City 'Civic City'. Then I tried Capital City, then Coast City. Then I flipped through the phone book and spotted the name 'Gotham Jewelers' and said, 'That's it', Gotham City."
I like their characterization of Mega City One, home to Judge Dredd. I haven't read any of those comics, but now feel like I sort of want to.
Finally: I think the one glaring omission is Astro City. How 'bout you?
July 10, 2009
Pity This Poor, Paltry Network
I just cannot bring myself to believe that this Pew chart of internet usage is true. Finally, more than half of American adults use the internet on a typical day -- but the proportion that engages in other more specific activities is still so, so low. "Watch a video" is at just 15 percent.
On one hand: What??
On the other hand: This just means all the really good stuff is yet to come. Patience, I tell myself. Patience.
July 9, 2009
The Clicks, They Are Involuntary
Again with the irresistible headlines from Wired Science:
Please Take This Simple One-Question Survey
I'm wondering about payment methods and purchase "friction." I have one question for you—click over to this Google Form and give me your gut reaction.
Next Time, Bigger And More Humble
Selected early reviews of New Liberal Arts:
Kevin Kelly, "Innovative Publishing Model":
It really doesn't matter what's in the book. The model is brilliant, if you have an audience. The scarce limited edition of the physical subsidizes the distribution of the unlimited free intangible... As it happens, the PDF reveals that the content is pretty thin. But it did not have to be. Their premise is great (the new literacies), and their biz model innovative. We can hope they try again. I am impressed enough with the experiment to use this model on my next self-published book.
The readers at Book Cover Archive: "This may be the only use of Century Gothic I'll ever appreciate," "friggin sold out! love that quarter binding..."
Aside from the PDF’s inherent weaknesses as e-book format, this is a pretty cool idea. The tiny press run gives value to the hardcover, certainly pays for the free PDF giveaway, and gets the interest up for the next book to be thusly released... In any case, given that it took only eight hours for New Liberal Arts to sell out, the Snarkmarketers might want to think of printing more next time.
Mark Allen: "New Liberal Arts is a free PDF ebook about things Jason Kottke often refers to as “Liberal Arts 2.0” and is written by a lot of really smart people about some really interesting topics such as brevity, micropolitics, mapping, reality engineering and a bunch more. It also has an innovative publishing model. It’s only about 35 pages of content, and each page is a discrete, bite size idea that will likely send you off in a completely new direction for the rest of the day."
And nobody (besides late-rising Californians) has even seen the physical book yet! (Which, just to be clear, is a perfect-bound paperback, not a hardcover.*)
July 8, 2009
Quiver for Brushes
I just bought one of Ashlee Ferlito's terrific tiny paintings. Can you guess which?
That Magic Threshold
I have a question.
Per Farhad Manjoo, domains are for suckers. That goes both for buying them and keeping track of them. Why bother remembering talkingpointsmemo.com when I can just type "josh marshall" or "tpm" into the address bar in Firefox or Chrome (not Safari, though) and jump directly to the site?
Here's the question: Talking Points Memo is the first Google result for both "josh marshall" and "tpm"—that's how those browsers know to take me there straightaway. However, robinsloan.com is the first result for "robin sloan"... but I do not get the boom-tube treatment. So what's the missing piece? Do you need a certain number of links backing you up to activate the shortcut? A certain number of queries per day? Any ideas?
More examples: "nick kristof" takes me straight to Kristof's NYT topic page. "matt thompson" takes me to the Google results page. "farhad manjoo" takes me to Manjoo's Wikipedia entry. "jason kottke" takes me straight to kottke.org. "epic 2014" takes me straight to EPIC 2014. "tim carmody" takes me to Google results. Argh! Are we really that obscure?
Man on Plinth
Eyeteeth explains a cool new art project:
Since Monday, artist Antony Gormley has been asking Britons to use Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth to make "a portrait of the UK now." For the next 100 days, he's opened up the remaining empty plinth -- built in 1841 to support an equestrian statue of William IV, but never completed due to lack of funds -- in central London to anyone for an hour, to do whatever they'd like.
There's a live stream!
NEW LIBERAL ARTS: The PDF
I wondered for a moment whether we should wait a week, or ten days, to post the PDF—wait, that is, for all the printed copies to arrive. But then I got impatient. Here it is.
If you bought one, resist temptation! You're going to enjoy opening it up in the mail a lot more than scrolling through it in the browser.
More meta-commentary on the book and the whole process—soon.
Update: Kevin Kelly says the content is "pretty thin," but also that "I am impressed enough with the experiment to use this model on my next self-published book." Cool!
Swimming Out Of The Death Spiral
And now for a note on the dark side of printed books: Michael Jensen, Director of Strategic Web Communications for National Academies and National Academies Press, collects and analyzes data about global warming and ecological collapse. At the AAUP meeting in Philadelphia, he presented "Scholarly Publishing in the New Era of Scarcity," an argument that the combination of financial and environmental necessity compels university presses to move away from printing, shipping, and storing books and towards a digital-driven, open-access model, with print-on-demand and institutional support rounding out the new revenue model.
(I'm posting Part 2 of Jensen's speech - the part that's mostly about publishing - here. Watch Part 1 - which is mostly about the environment - if you want to be justly terrified about what's going to happen to human beings and everything else pretty soon.)
This is one reason I'm kind of happy that we didn't print a thousand or more copies of New Liberal Arts. We can make print rare, we can get copies straight to readers, we can make print more responsible, but mostly we have to make print count. And - of course - share the information with as many people as possible.
Are you on the east coast, or (gasp) in the Eastern Hemisphere, and can't wait until your copy of the New Liberal Arts is delivered or late-rising Californians post the free PDF?
You can already read four of the New Liberal Arts entries for free, online, now:
July 7, 2009
Why Books Are Great, In One Link
From a neat presentation by the super-smart Matt Webb. He's talking about Bruno Munari, who in turn is talking about all the interesting ways there are of drawing a human face.
So, page one. As Webb says: "It's great prose, makes a lot of sense. And then you're halfway through a sentence, and you turn the page, and..."—(Click the "next" link on Webb's page, you'll see.)
What's great about this? The full-bleed-ness. There is no full-bleed on the web. And that totally sucks! It's such a crucial, powerful tool. Books and magazines get full-bleed. TVs and video game consoles get full-bleed. Even the Kindle and iPhone get full-bleed! But not the web. You don't ever get the full screen, the entire page, the total experience. In fact—the way browsers are going—you get less and less.
The Real Reason to Make Books: You Get to Make Book Covers
While I'm here: Wow, I really did not expect those books to sell out so fast. Now I wish we'd printed twice as many. But, a limited edition is a limited edition! PDF coming soon.
NEW LIBERAL ARTS: 200 Down
Only 41 left! All gone. Look for the PDF tomorrow!
Thanks, everyone -- we sold out in eight hours.
July 6, 2009
Wolfgang and Red Riding Hood
Also: "Wolfgang Joop"!!
My Travel Kit
During my year of shuttling back and forth between Missouri and Minnesota, I honed my travel regimen down to a precise science. I've got my High Sierra Wheeled Backpack, my Monster Outlets-to-Go travel power strip, spare contacts, spare eyeglasses and two zippered bags for liquid and dry toiletries, all ready to go whenever I need them. Most of my liquids -- lotion, shaving oil, hand sanitizer, eyedropper (for contact solution) -- are either refillable or are normally sold in TSA-acceptable containers, like deodorant and roll-on styptic pens.
What's always bedeviled me, though, is the toothpaste. Travel-size toothpaste can be surprisingly elusive, and the container isn't refillable. Or so I thought. I mean, it's not like you could just put the nozzle of your regular toothpaste tube up against the nozzle of the travel tube and squeeze, right?
Wrong. It totally works. And just you watch, I will still be using the same grody .75-oz tube of Crest in 2011.
Three Thoughts On Early Cities
Cities may be engines of innovation, but not everyone thinks they are beautiful, particularly the megalopolises of today, with their sprawling rapacious appetites. They seem like machines eating the wilderness, and many wonder if they are eating us as well. Is the recent large-scale relocation to cities a choice or a necessity? Are people pulled by the lure of opportunities, or are they pushed against their will by desperation? Why would anyone willingly choose to leave the balm of a village and squat in a smelly, leaky hut in a city slum unless they were forced to?
Image via Wikipedia
Well, every city begins as a slum. First it's a seasonal camp, with the usual free-wheeling make-shift expediency. Creature comforts are scarce, squalor the norm. Hunters, scouts, traders, pioneers find a good place to stay for the night, or two, and then if their camp is a desirable spot it grows into an untidy village, or uncomfortable fort, or dismal official outpost, with permanent buildings surrounded by temporary huts. If the location of the village favors growth, concentric rings of squatters aggregate around the core until the village swells to a town. When a town prospers it acquires a center — civic or religious — and the edges of the city continue to expand in unplanned, ungovernable messiness. It doesn't matter in what century or in which country, the teaming guts of a city will shock and disturb the established residents. The eternal disdain for newcomers is as old as the first city. Romans complained of the tenements, shacks and huts at the edges of their town that "were putrid, sodden and sagging." Every so often Roman soldiers would raze a settlement of squatters, only to find it rebuilt or moved within weeks.
The origins of modern human behavior are marked by increased symbolic and technological complexity in the archaeological record. In western Eurasia this transition, the Upper Paleolithic, occurred about 45,000 years ago, but many of its features appear transiently in southern Africa about 45,000 years earlier. We show that demography is a major determinant in the maintenance of cultural complexity and that variation in regional subpopulation density and/or migratory activity results in spatial structuring of cultural skill accumulation. Genetic estimates of regional population size over time show that densities in early Upper Paleolithic Europe were similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa when modern behavior first appeared. Demographic factors can thus explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity.
While it's very nice to have some statistical evidence for this idea (even if I can't pretend to understand the "Bayesian coalescent inference" method used by the scientists to calculate the population densities in the late Pleistocene), it's worth pointing out that the density explanation isn't particularly new. In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs forcefully argued against the "dogma of agricultural primacy," which assumed that farmers and agricultural innovations made civilization possible. Jacobs argued that the dogma was exactly backwards, and that it was the density of urbanesque clusters which generated the innovations that made farming possible. As Jacobs writes: "It was not agriculture then, for all its importance, that was the salient invention...Rather it was the fact of sustained, interdependent, creative city economies that made possible many new kinds of work." After all, you can't learn how to grow food until you've got a system for transmitting knowledge, which is why population density is so essential.
Gratuitous Space Battles
Seems like the essence of a good video game is (sometimes) figuring out what a player really wants to see on the screen, and then engineering a system to conjure up that screen as reliably as possible.
I feel that the designers of Gratuitous Space Battles have done exactly this.
The Geography of New Media
If you hang around in the NYC media bubble long enough, you develop the social depression of a collapsing industry. The west coast is full of a giddy frisson about the inevitable demise of big media, while the midwest is skeptical of everything that gets force-fed to them from the coasts. NYC, which has essentially zero awareness of any of this, continues to constantly be shocked! when a TMZ or Pitchfork or The Onion comes along from the hinterlands with a massively successful enterprise.
The reasons for this amounts to a lack of vision. Even smart people, vampirically bound to the past, seem completely blind to developing new formats. The standard for online innovation right now is "launch another blog," which no one seems to recognize is about as depressing as launching another newspaper.
Sign One that Mediaite will be smarter than HuffPo: this Jeffrey Feldman column that turns Nico Pitney vs. Dana Milbank into Marshall McLuhan vs. Thomas Jefferson. Me likey, Jeffrey. Me likey a lot.
July 4, 2009
The Problem Is the Wall
Ezra Klein recently moved from the American Prospect to the [depending on your perspective] loftier perch of the Washington Post. I'm guessing this has also gotten him better access to the halls of power; he seems to be snagging higher-profile interviews more often (e.g. Atul Gawande, Ron Wyden, Tom Daschle, Bernie Sanders).
But his heightened proximity to the legislative sausage factory might be having a depressing effect. Lately, he's gotten more and more negative about the deficiencies of our government structure. Most of our biggest problems, he's been saying, can't really be pinned on individual actors like Obama or, say, Tom Harkin. They're systemic.
To illustrate, he offers a nice fable:
Imagine a group of men sitting in a dim prison cell. One of the walls has a window. Beyond that wall, they know they'll find freedom. One of the men spends years picking away at it with a small knife. The others eventually tire of him. That's an idiotic approach, they say. You need more force. So one of the other men spends his days ramming the bed frame into the wall. Eventually, he exhausts himself. The others mock his hubris. Another tries to light the wall on fire. That fails as well. The assembled prisoners laugh at the attempt. And so it goes. But the problem is that there is no answer to their dilemma. The problem is not their strategy. It's the wall.
July 3, 2009
A California Constitutional Convention
With the state's fiscal woes mounting and Sacramento seemingly frozen in place, a group of California leaders has proposed a constitutional convention as a way to fix the Golden State's deeply entrenched structural problems.
But how do you organize the convention? I really like the sound of this scheme:
RANDOM SELECTION: This method might sound the strangest but actually may hold the most promise. It has been used in Canada and elsewhere. A scientific sampling of Californians would be randomly selected from the statewide voter list, like a jury pool.
The Bay Area Council, a group of business leaders, has proposed randomly selecting 400 Californians to create a body of average citizens who could bring their common sense and pragmatism to the problems at hand. Those delegates would be paid to participate for eight months, starting with an intensive two-month education process in which they would hear from many experts about the problems and potential solutions for California.
It's like deliberative polling with teeth!
It's not without problems, of course -- but to me they seem like better problems than the ones you get with appointed or elected bodies. And keep in mind, a randomly-selected group would be generating policy options which would then be voted on by everyone else in California, so it's not like we would, er, skip democracy entirely.
This Is What the Alien Invasion Looks Like
Another winner from Today and Tomorrow. Pretty sure this scene would be completely gross seen through eyes not belonging to an amazing photographer. This is the danger of great photography, yeah? The world doesn't look like this. Or even like this.
Riding in Style
Yo I totally want one of these vehicles. How can something so Seuss-ian actually be real?
July 2, 2009
Kickstarter is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. Here's a list of recently-funded projects.
Geeking Out, c. 1990
I love this; Hewlett-Packard is selling an exact copy of its HP-12C financial calculator for the iPhone.
The iPhone version of the HP-12C is a near carbon copy of the actual machine. It not only looks the same, but it actually runs the same code as do the physical calculators. The iPhone version is actually a bit better than just a clone of the original, though, because HP includes a simplified portrait-mode calculator (the 12C is a landscape-mode device). When used in portrait mode, you can use the number keys, along with all the usual math operators and a couple of other functions such as square roots and memory—perfect for those times when you just need a basic calculator.
The real power of the HP-12C is found when you rotate your iPhone to landscape mode; what appears on the screen then is a photographic reproduction of the actual HP-12C calculator, complete with the gold-brown-orange-blue color scheme that made the original so…endearing? Because the app uses the actual calculator’s code, absolutely everything works just like it does on the real calculator.
I used a calculator just like this to win a middle school mathematics competition - in those days, it was called a "Calculator Competition," because you could (gasp!) use a calculator. There was a school-wide thing, then a regional, and then a state final; it was a whole thing. The state final was the first time I'd ever seen a graphing calculator; that shiz blew my mind.
July 1, 2009
This Post Is About the Windows Operating System
(Pardon the geeky, utilitarian interruption, but this Windows volume control app just changed my life. Which will sound silly to you... unless you've ever tried to change the volume on Windows, in which case you too will be scrambling to click that link and download this app.)
Oh wow. Sixty Symbols defines a bunch of classic, crucial constants in physics and astronomy -- for instance, h, Planck's constant -- via short, snappy videos. It's clever and consumable. A+.
What Canadian Expats Miss About Canada
The NYT asked:
In history class, in seventh grade (or as we like to say in Canada, grade seven) we learned the story of the American Revolution — from the British perspective. Turns out you were all a bunch of ungrateful tax cheats. And you weren’t very nice to the Loyalists. What I miss most about Canada is getting the truth about the United States.
— MALCOLM GLADWELL, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author, most recently, of “Outliers: The Story of Success”
I also liked this quip from Simpsons writer Tim Long:
I miss the snow. Yes, I know the United States gets snow, but to my Canadian eye, American snow is like American health care: sporadic, unreliable and distributed unevenly among the population.
My Eight-Year-Old Self Can't Believe Any Of This
There are only 60,000 nuns left in the US Catholic Church.And the Vatican wants to start an inquisition into what's left of the orders, 'cause some o' them ladies just maybe ain't been doin' what they're told.
Well, that's just great. Thank you, Pope Benedict - you're so evil, you've got me rooting for nuns. (It's like in Return of the Jedi, when you realize Darth Vader isn't really the real bad guy.)
Behold, the Macro-User
Wow. Google explains some new Gmail features with graphs of aggregate user behavior. That is amazing. I want to see the whole Gmail user behavior dashboard! I want to see the top 100 labels that people use! I want to see everything!
June 30, 2009
Jeff Scher's Parade
Love, love, love Jeff Scher's video about people walking down the street. It's simple and stunning.
June 29, 2009
Trollope Rides Again
It's tough to be a writer today, but then again, it's always been tough: More than in any other medium, you've got to compete with the past as well as the present. Hmm, should I dig into the new Richard Ford novel... or Moby Dick?
Of course, this is the great opportunity, as well. (At least if you believe Mr. Penumbra.)
This is all to say that I absolutely love the fact that an Anthony Trollope novel from 1875 is the top pick on Newsweek's list of books for our times. In fact, I love the whole list. It's one of the best I've ever seen -- broad without being shallow, diverse without being precious.
I'll offer a strong second to #28 ("Midnight's Children") and #36 ("The Dark Is Rising"); in fact, the Newsweek mention has inspired me to go back and read them both again.
And here's a Kindle bonus: Get your Trollope for free.
I dunno where Today and Tomorrow gets this stuff. Beautiful.
The Death of the End, the Birth of the Beginning
I don't have any answers just yet, but I like Rex's well-titled "The Death of Writing, The Rebirth of Words."
(See Roland Barthes's "The Death of the Author is the Birth of the Reader" and Jacques Derrida's "The End of the Book, The Beginning of Writing")
June 28, 2009
For seven months, The New York Times managed to keep out of the news the fact that one of its reporters, David Rohde, had been kidnapped by the Taliban.
But that was pretty straightforward compared with keeping it off Wikipedia.
Fun project: Plot all the routes numbered 001 on various airlines. Please note the continents not visited.
June 27, 2009
Cross-reference these two:
- Joanne McNeil explains why teenagers read better than you. ("China Mieville, at his talk at the Harvard Bookstore a few weeks ago, said he wrote his YA book 'Un Lun Dun' because he's 'jealous of the way [young people] read.'")
- Michael Chabon writes about the lost wildness of childhood. (It made me remember roaming deep in the thickets that curled around my subdivision, ears perking up when my mom called my name from far down the street -- because it was time for dinner.)
I think the rumors of childhood's death are exaggerated. I base this not on any first-hand experience with children -- I have none -- but rather on my skepticism that mass media, in any format, can ever match, in terms of pure play potential, a glade of trees and some fallen sticks.
June 26, 2009
Welcome to the Chimera
I agree with Nav; this post by Emily Gould is terrific. Less for her strong rebuttal of an errant "the internet is vulgar" argument -- which is so silly it requires no rebut -- than for this description of the internet itself:
Kunkel's experience of the Internet bears no resemblance to my experience of the Internet, but then, that's the funny thing about the Internet, isn't it? No one's Internet looks the same as anyone else's, and it's that exact essential fungibility that makes definitive assessments like Kunkel's infuriating. The Internet isn't a text we can all read and interpret differently. It's not even a text, at least not in most senses of that word. The Internet is a chimera that magically manifests in whatever guise its viewer expects it to. If you are looking at the Internet and expecting it to be a source of fleeting funniness, unchallenging writing, attention-span-killing video snippets, and porn, then that is exactly all it will ever be for you.
On one level, you might just say the internet is just a technology, and broad claims about content on the internet exist at the same level as broad claims about things printed on paper. On another level, you might say the internet is a chimera that magically manifests in whatever guise its viewer expects it to, and man, I want to be on that level.
I want the toned-down J. Crew-ized version of this look.
June 25, 2009
Where There Is Love ...
For my family, the death of Michael Jackson was one of those call-your-people-and-make-sure-everyone's-okay moments. I was checking the New York Times on my cell on the way to Tampa International Airport when the story was still that he'd been rushed to the hospital, reportedly for cardiac arrest. The way they'd written the story, though, with eulogistic snippets of bio fleshing out the news report, it felt as though the writers had pasted in text from Jackson's canned obit, which I interpreted as a bad sign. I kept saying to the folks in the Super Shuttle that I had a bad feeling about it. As I handed my boarding pass and license to the TSA inspector, she passed it back slowly, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Michael Jackson is dead."
So. Muse upon a problematic and epic life with me, Snarketeers. What have you seen that lives up to the moment? I'll kick us off with this reminiscence, by Minneapolis writer Max "Bunny" Sparber. And the MetaFilter obit thread is always a propos.
And, for the road, from Tim:
The Future Is All Filters
I made my Iran dashboard because I needed a better filter for Iran news. But filters aren't just for just for tracking global tumult; people need them on all levels. For example: My sister, an ultra-busy grad student and dancer, doesn't really have time to read Snarkmarket.
No you cannot unsubscribe from this feed and sign up for that one. I'm going to know if you do. We have analytics for these things.
Tolkein in Tehran
In Tehran, state television's Channel Two is putting on a "Lord of the Rings" marathon, part of a bigger push to keep us busy. Movie mad and immunized from international copyright laws, Iranians are normally treated to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. Now it's two or three films a day. The message is "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Let's watch, forget about what's happened, never mind. Stop dwelling in the past. Look ahead.
Frodo: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish that none of this had happened."
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."...
Who picked this film? I start to suspect that there is a subversive soul manning the controls at Seda va Sima, AKA the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It is way too easy to play with the film, to draw comparisons to what is happening in real life...
On the television screen, Boromir, human of Aragon, falls. He dies an honorable death defending the lives of his compatriots.
"In edame dare." This is to be continued. The phrase has become our hesitant slogan, our phrase of reassurance. "In edame dare." People are not going to let up so easily.
God. Wait until they get to the Battle of Gondor.
June 24, 2009
Headline of the Month
How can you not click on this headline?
The only question is: Is it a science-y blog post... or a new work of literary fiction?
A Living Wage for Living Literature
If you hang around with me long enough that we get a chance to go to a fancy restaurant together, you might get to hear this parable. It used to be possible to be a professional waiter - one who thought of service as a career. And the service you received was service from a career professional. But as wages declined, so did service. A rotating cast of college students and twentysomethings can sometimes surprise you with their talent or enthusiasm, but they can't make a career of it. You come in, you do your best, and you rotate out, and what you end up with are a lot of chain restaurants where it's good to be a college student or twenty-something, good to drink a lot and eat a lot, but comparatively few places were you can feel like a gourmand.
The New Yorker's The Book Bench tells a similar story about wage cuts among younger workers in the publishing industry. The impetus to the post are cuts at William Morris, where entry-level workers saw their pay cut from 13.50/hour to 9.50/hour.
Tiny salaries in the low ranks of publishing are miserable for the young workers, but they’re probably worse for literature (You can insert “movies” for “literature,” if that’s the prism through which you want to read this.) It’s a truism of the industry that most of these jobs are held by people who can afford them—people with some parental support and no student loans. Often they’ve had unpaid internships, that most pernicious example of class privilege. Their superiors are the same people, ten years later. They—we!—are smart, cultured people with good intentions, but it’s easy to see how this narrow range could lead to a blinkered view of literature.
So, if you’re sick of coming-of-age novels about comfortable young men, a little solidarity with the lowly assistants might help.
Although now I'm scratching my head: the privilege thing I get, but are publishing companies and talent agencies overrun by dudes? I've never gotten that vibe.
June 22, 2009
The Hidden Fourth Dimension of Music
I'm picking up on a musical meme -- probably an old one, but new to me.
Start with this nice NYT write-up of a piece of music composed for long, curving lines of trombone players -- 89 in all! -- surrounding the listener.
Cross-reference with the new physical electronica -- and the argument that real sound sources, placed creatively in space, create an effect not replicable by any speakers, no matter how slick.
In an era when anybody can crank out music in stereo that doesn't sound half-bad, how do you distinguish yourself? The same way the movie studios are doing it, of course: add a dimension.
So now, I want the home version: How about an iPhone app that plays a composition on many phones simultaneously, networked via BlueTooth, and requires you to place them strategically around a space to get the full effect. Maybe dynamic performance instructions flash on-screen: "Run forward!" or "Muffle this phone with your shirt!"
If the app knew the relative locations of the iPhones -- (you, as a user, could probably give it some clues) -- the sound could swish and pan from phone to phone, in a sort of super-amorphous surround sound.
The Real Book Business
She sells 27 books every minute! She makes more money than John Grisham or Steven King. And -- this is more macro -- "of people who read books, one in five read romance."
I wonder if there's room to reinvent, subvert, honor, and blow up that genre all at once. Sorta like what Battlestar Galactica did with TV sci-fi. Can you imagine a new name on the supermarket romance rack -- in swoopy high-gloss letters, natch -- that the hipsters reach for, too? (Does this author already exist?)
Iran Filter Meta
Extra context, for nerds only: There's a bit of screen scraping involved, and for that I used Hpricot, an almost-magical Ruby HTML-parsing library, and Sinatra, a definitely-magical Ruby web framework. They make it easy to create useful micro-feeds -- for instance, http://iran.robinsloan.com/nytlede, which tells me when the newest NYT Lede entry was updated -- information that's not included in the RSS feed.
June 21, 2009
The web's saturated with Iran election coverage, and I felt like I needed a personal hub -- mostly to keep myself from obsessively reloading 10 different sites -- so I made this. Very minimal, but maybe it will be useful to you, too.
Update #2: Added a Persian tweet translation page. I think I want all my news in 22-pixel Helvetica now.
June 19, 2009
Ideas Ideas Ideas Ideas
China Mieville, guest-blogging on Amazon's Omnivoracious, drops some ideas he wants other people to write books around. Two of the ideas are meta-ideas. (Of course they are.)
Been having a hard time getting into The City & The City, actually. But I haven't given up. Mieville's books can be hard to kick-start but once you get 'em going... what a ride.
June 18, 2009
Thomas Baekdal has a nice schematic history of news and information from 1800 to 2020. I like his 1900-1960 entry:
By the year 1900, the newspapers and magazine had revolutionized how we communicated. Now we could get news from places we have never been. We could communicate our ideas to people we had never seen. And we could sell our products to people far away.
You still had to go out to talk other people, but you could stay on top of things, without leaving the city. It was amazing. It was the first real revolution of information. The world was opening up to everyone.
During the next 60 years the newspapers dominated our lives. If you wanted to get the latest news, or tell people about your product, you would turn to the newspapers. It seemed like newspapers would surely be the dominant source of information for all time to come.
Except that during the 1920s a new information source started to attract people's attention - the Radio. Suddenly you could listen to another person's voice 100 of miles away. But most importantly, you could get the latest information LIVE. It was another tremendous evolution is the history of information. By 1960's the two dominant sources of information was LIVE news from the Radio and the more detailed news via newspapers and magazines.
It was really great times, although some meant that "The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio is simply to get out better papers", an argument that we would hear repeatedly for the next 50 years.
The stuff about 2020 seems very familiar.
Via Lone Gunman.
June 17, 2009
Four New Roles for Publishers
Nice post over at O'Reilly TOC. I like Andy Oram's forthrightness here:
The bedrock principle in [the new media] environment is that the publisher is no longer a gatekeeper. Anything can go online to be linked to, rated, berated, or anything else people want to do with it. Since we are no longer gatekeepers, publishers have to focus on how we add quality.
Sounds nice--but that puts us in a real quandary, because the elements of quality we have seized on so proudly over the decades no longer matter as much. We have to recognize the new environment we're in and find new meaning for ourselves.
My favorite of his four new proposed roles is the last one, "integrating facets of a large-scale text," which is, besides being a useful service, also just a nice-sounding phrase.
June 16, 2009
The Writing Life
I can only imagine how addictive (and ridiculous) this is for people with real books, and real sales. It's simultaneously an economic metric and a proxy for your self-esteem. Dangerous.
For the record: 130 Kindle copies sold to date. And about a hundred times that many web views... which feels about right.
I don't know why, but I've always thought of surgery as primarily a cerebral pursuit; a great surgeon is so because he's clever and smart. A short passage from Gawande's [commencement] address reveals that perhaps that's not the case:
In surgery, for instance, I know that I have more I can learn in mastering the operations I do. So what does a surgeon like me do? We look to those who are unusually successful -- the positive deviants. We watch them operate and learn their tricks, the moves they make that we can take home.
So surgeons learn surgery in the same way that kids learn Kobe Bryant's post moves from SportsCenter highlights?
Actually, Gawande reminds me a little bit of Tony Gwynn's method of obsessively recording pitchers to see what pitches they might use against him:
What began as a casual "let's take a look at how I swing" Has developed into a Spielberg-like production.
On the road, Gwynn carries two extra bags packed with video equipment and supplies. He has tapes of himself against every pitcher he has faced in the National League, showing every at-bat he has been able to film.
In his hotel room, before every game, he uses a small video replay machine to review the tape of that night's pitcher.
"I kind of take things to an extreme," said Gwynn, who edits and compiles his own tapes. "I know all I have to do is see the ball and hit the ball and I will put my bat on the ball. I know that, but it's not enough...
"I don't keep a journal. Most of it is mental anyway. Once you watch these tapes as much as I do, you know. I think I would be as good a hitter without the tapes, but this is fine tuning. I really don't look at myself that much, but rather I look at how the guy has pitched me in the past. Maybe they will try it again, maybe not. But it will be in my mind knowing what they might do, and that is an advantage to me as a hitter."
June 15, 2009
How to Invent
According to Jeff Bezos, inventing is easy. You just have to sign up for these three things:
"There are a few prerequisites to inventing.... You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to think long term. You have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. If you can't do those three things, you need to limit yourself to sustaining innovation.... You typically don't get misunderstood for sustaining innovation."
I think most people probably underestimate how hard it is to stomach being "misunderstood for long periods of time." Like, long periods of time.
But I agree. Determination, discipline, and stubbornness are what get good ideas out into the world.
Live Swimsuit Intervention
Imagine an art exhibit that features a giant swimming pool, sans water. Imagine yourself standing there, scoping it sound, thinking: Okay, that's neat.
Now imagine that a trio of museum-goers... the ones standing just behind you... suddenly strip down into bathing suits and swim trunks. Giggles and shouts.
They run into the pool, and leap into the air.
Love it on every level.
Well, That Is Quite Large
This image looks so good it almost looks bad: a gamma ray burst.
The New Liberal Arts and the New Professors
So I'm writing a short essay for a forum on the future of scholarship and the profession at The Chronicle of Higher Ed, I think on the New Liberal Arts.
Like you, i've spent a lot of time thinking about WHAT the NLA should be, but relatively little on how that would change colleges, universities, and the lives, research, and careers of professors.
So... What should I say?
June 13, 2009
The Boss Sure Can Write
Wow. Bill Keller's memo from Tehran can be read almost as a direct rebuke to the Daily Show segment on the NYT. (Which, by the way, I didn't think was very funny. The mean-spirited field segments have always been my least favorite part of that show.)
Kinda like: "How's this for yesterday's news?"
Something else to notice: Bill Keller can write like a dream.
On the streets around Fatemi Square, near the headquarters of the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, riot police officers dressed in Robocop gear roared down the sidewalks on motorcycles to disperse and intimidate the clots of pedestrians who gathered to share rumors and dismay.
"Another four years of dictatorship," a voter muttered, and "this is a coup d'etat." Several others agreed. Some women wept openly. Some talked of "mutiny." Others were more cynical.
"It was just a movie," said Hussein Gharibi, a 54-year-old juice vendor, scoffing at those who got their hopes up. "They were all just players in a movie."
Crisp, imagistic ("dressed in Robocop gear"), revealing. Pretty amazing when the top (editorial) executive is also one of the best writers.
The Boss Sure Can Write
Wow. Bill Keller's memo from Tehran can be read almost as a direct rebuke to the Daily Show segment on the NYT. (Which, by the way, I didn't think was very funny. The mean-spirited field segments have always been my least favorite part of that show.)
Kinda like: "How's this for yesterday's news?"
Something else to notice: Bill Keller can write like a dream.
On the streets around Fatemi Square, near the headquarters of the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, riot police officers dressed in Robocop gear roared down the sidewalks on motorcycles to disperse and intimidate the clots of pedestrians who gathered to share rumors and dismay.
"Another four years of dictatorship," a voter muttered, and "this is a coup d'etat." Several others agreed. Some women wept openly. Some talked of "mutiny." Others were more cynical.
"It was just a movie," said Hussein Gharibi, a 54-year-old juice vendor, scoffing at those who got their hopes up. "They were all just players in a movie."
Crisp, imagistic ("dressed in Robocop gear"), revealing. Pretty amazing when the top (editorial) executive is also one of the best writers.
June 12, 2009
June 11, 2009
Snarkmarket Process Bonus: Mr. Tyndall
Two rejected sketches of Mr. Tyndall from Penumbra:
Both not crazy enough. Also, the second one looks a little like Roger Ebert, yeah?
Our Daily Bread
Today Lifehacker brings us a ridiculously good idea. You make and refrigerate a week-or-two supply of no-knead bread dough. When you're ready for a fresh loaf, you pull off a chunk and stick it in the oven for half an hour. Voila! Cheap, convenient, delicious, homemade bread! These folks turned this idea into a cookbook.
The Economists Went to Their Homes
The New Yorker Book Bench reports: "Yesterday, Ha'aretz -- Israel's oldest newspaper -- sent home all of its regular reporters and contributors, and replaced them with famous literary scribes."
This was the business report from Avri Herling:
Everything's okay. Everything's like usual. Yesterday trading ended. Everything's okay. The economists went to their homes, the laundry is drying on the lines, dinners are waiting in place... Dow Jones traded steadily and closed with 8,761 points, Nasdaq added 0.9% to a level of 1,860 points.... The guy from the shakshuka [an Israeli egg-and-tomato dish] shop raised his prices again....
Pretty cute. More than cute. Reminds me of what Chip Scanlan at Poynter used to say: Newspapers shouldn't just be in the information business; they should be in the wisdom business.
Kindle Store Data Point
For the record: It takes about 25 sales to make it into the top 10 best-selling "technothriller" list in the Kindle store. (Technothriller!)
Question for you: Any blogs or boards where you think I ought to be promoting this? Kindle-centric blogs... book blogs with a penchant for new forms... hubs for short fiction? Just curious. Leave a comment or email me, robin at snarkmarket.
While I'm writing: Gotta give manifold props to John August, whose Kindle short story The Variant was what convinced me to put Penumbra on the Kindle as well. He's also written up some observations of the Kindle market as a whole, and the general takeaway seems to be: The numbers are all really low. The best-selling books in the Kindle store sell around 500 copies a day. And okay, that's actually a lot. But it's not iPhone-scale at all, and of course the numbers drop off steeply from there. How many Kindles are there in the world? Less than a million, right? It's still a tiny universe.
June 10, 2009
Why Is Gawande So Good?
And now I can confidently agree, it's great. But why is it so great?
Here's my theory:
- It's a first person narrative -- and not tentatively so. There are I's everywhere in this piece, and it's wonderful.
New rule: The more abstract and complex the subject matter, the more important it is to anchor it to an identifiable human point-of-view.
- The use of place in this piece is also really important. Yes, the piece focuses on different health-care costs in different parts of the country, so it makes sense. But, even absent that connection, I think anchoring ideas to places is generally a good idea. Think of a memory palace. Our brains have super-powerful circuitry for thinking about and remembering places, and when you connect ideas to places (even imaginary places) you co-opt some of that power. It's like a computer scientist finding a way to do a calculation on the GPU to take advantage of that crazy speed and parallelism.
New idea: Use place in narrative as a hack to engage the 3D-sensing-mapping brain.
- It's a hero's quest. Really! In this piece, Atul Gawande is Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine. Frodo going to Mordor. He has an urgent quest (to solve this health-care puzzle); he enters new, unexplored territory (McAllen, Texas); he meets friends and foes along the way. It's Joseph Campbell meets Peter Orszag. Near the two-thirds mark he literally mentions flying home; that's important. It gives the piece a familiar, satisfying arc.
New venture: Policy think-tank co-founded by George Lucas and Peter Jackson?
So there you go.
Now This Is My Kinda Contest
The new contest that Google is running with the Guggenheim is absolutely terrific:
Today, Frank Lloyd Wright's 142nd birthday, we're excited to announce the Design It: Shelter Competition. Held by the Guggenheim Museum and Google SketchUp, the competition is inspired by Wright's assignment for his apprentices at Taliesin: If you wanted to study to be an architect with Wright, you had to design and build a shelter in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Then you had to live and study in it.
Unlike the Taliesin assignment, the shelters in this competition are virtual. To enter, use Google SketchUp to design a small structure where someone might sleep and work. Your shelter should be created for a specific site anywhere in the world and geo-located in Google Earth. It also should conform to size constraints and must not include running water, gas or electricity.
Here's the official contest site.
There's a bit of the "editor as wizard" effect here -- the power of a framework or context. (There's a better way to articulate this but I'm in a rush.) I could have, at any point since SketchUp's introduction, designed a site-specific shelter and posted it for all to see. But... that would have seemed kinda lame, and certainly disconnected.
But now? Watch for mine on Snarkmarket sometime in the next couple months.
This io9 essay on Dollhouse reminded me of something I bet a lot of slightly-less-hardcore Joss Whedon fans didn't know: Years ago, Whedon wrote a couple of action movie screenplays that got reviewed at Screenwriter's Utopia. The review includes a summary of one of the movies (called "Afterlife") that clearly prefigured the ideas Whedon's exploring in Dollhouse. The premise changed a lot in the intervening years, but it's somewhat fascinating to look at the progression.
June 9, 2009
The Seven Types of (Twenty-Four-Hour) Book Store Customer
Let me tell you: Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store does not operate around the clock due to an overwhelming volume of book-buyers.
In fact, whole nights go by without a single customer. Just me, my laptop, and the dusty heights.
But oh. That single customer.
There is, I have learned, a community of very strange men clustered in this part of San Francisco. They visit the store late at night. They come wide awake, and completely sober. And they are always nearly vibrating with need.
(Yes, I'm going to be doing this all week.)
June 7, 2009
I'm left feeling incredibly unsure about how to express my negative feelings, having attempted this paragraph half a dozen times. I don't want to give anything away that happens in the game, but I do want to discuss my experience of playing as Ruby, and why it genuinely upset me. I think this is The Path's greatest achievement -- to be capable of being genuinely upsetting.
And then check out the comments. This is not the kind of convo you usually get about a new game release. Granted, this is all on Rock Paper Shotgun, which is already sort of the New Yorker of game blogs. But even so.
Sounds and Pictures
Things I'm digging right now:
- This old Tungg song: Bullets. It wasn't until the third listen that I decided it was being sung by happy, dancing zombies. Or hobbits. Or zombie hobbits? (Be sure to get past the odd little sonic intro.)
- I think I mentioned him before, but man, I just cannot get enough of Hudson Mohawke. Two of my favorite tracks are on this page in different forms, but I really think it's worth getting the whole album. Here's some more context.
- I love Jillian Tamaki's sketchbook. These animals are appealing without being overcute. (Total Babar vibe, you know?) There are glimpses into her process. And overall I'm just blown away by the variety of tone and style. Like, wha? Whaaa?
- Tornadoes in Brooklyn has been on a roll lately. Love these images of the magical (?!) former Soviet Union. These ones creep me out. And look at the texture of the sky here. Is that real? I'm kinda suspicious. Look at these signal flags! Wrapped up like Batman's utility belt... for a boat.
- Let's get a Snarkmarket treehouse.
June 6, 2009
Making Those Schrifts A Little Shorter
Before coming to Snarkmarket, I blogged solo for four years at Short Schrift. After trying a handful of different ideas, I wound up having SS mirror my posts here -- but usually with a lag, since I update a bunch of posts at once.
Well, today I'm changing the format of Short Schrift to make it more like a link blog/reading diary. Snarkmarket will be the home of ideas, questions, problems, and commentary, while Short Schrift will be more, um, gestational. My first "new" post is here: "Bursting the Higher Education Bubble." Old and new readers alike, check it out. And look at some of the archives too! There's a lot of stuff in there that I'm still thinking about. I would love for you to think about it too.
June 5, 2009
How Do You Follow The Web?
Me, I subscribe to a lot of sites, so I get auto-updated. I use an RSS reader, NetNewsWire, with Google Reader as a woefully unsynced backup. I keep feeds sorted into folders by category, and I just tweaked the categories:
academia blogs books and libraries CFPs digital life downloads friends' blogs friends' personal history ideas journalism mac magazines media music must reads my blogs news online mags politics radio sports tv and movies
I also have a couple of things emailed to me semi-regularly: new comments or links to Snarkmarket, Counterfictionals, or Short Schrift, mentions of my name, and new search results for "blood and treasure." (Weird, I know.)
How do you do it?
June 4, 2009
Is That a Big Idea In Your Pocket?
This is a great line, from Ben Brantley's review of a new play:
Topical plays tend to make their characters tote a Big Theme as if they were pack animals, scrunched into awkward postures by the weight of the idea on their backs.
James Fallows reports on the vibe in China today:
CNN is still blacked out whenever words like "In China today...." or "Twenty years ago in Bei...." come across the airwaves. Whereas BBC TV is airing uncensored footage of tanks in the square twenty years ago and repeatedly using the phrase "Tiananmen massacre." And just as I type, the admirable Quentin Somerville of the BBC is talking, live from Beijing, about the "ruthlessness at the heart of the Communist government." (And just this second, in a Borges-worthy moment, Somerville said that international coverage was being blacked out across China -- so I got to see him saying that I was not able to see him. Still, the general point is true.)
And Nick Kristof mentions:
China has blocked the use of "June 4" in Internet postings. So people are referring to the crackdown on "May 35."
Does that sound like Orwell or what? "...and the clocks were striking thirteen."
And check. this. out: a new view of the man, and the tanks, never before seen. Wow.
Apparently, the Earth Is Only Pretty When It's Empty
I think the conversation about "The Earth Is Hiring" sensitized me to this point: Watching the trailer for Home, I couldn't help but think, "Oh, I get it. The beautiful shots are the ones without humans."
And then, later on, the rapid-fire cuts of cities are supposed to be emblems of corruption and destruction. Except, of course, dense cities are better for the planet than other living arrangements. (I mean, come on. Look at that.)
This is all to say: I'm tired of the old visual tropes. I want some pro-planet media made with a more Worldchanging sensibility. Hmm... I guess the challenge is that stirring tribal music goes better with fly-overs of blue whales than cutaways of city-wide gray-water systems.
Islam and America
This was by far not one of the big grafs in Obama's Cairo speech, but for some reason I found it really stirring:
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library.
Oh right. History.
June 2, 2009
Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias are talking about "prestige cross-pollination" in economics:
"...the habit of distinguished economists using prestige acquired within their field to pass off sloppy work in other fields."
Klein backs it up:
...it's not just about commentary. Take the Obama administration. Brian Deese, the guy quarterbacking the auto restructuring, is a 31-year-old members of the economics team. Peter Orszag is probably the most powerful voice on health-care policy. Larry Summers, by most accounts, has a hand in literally everything. Economists, in other words, are the prime movers on not only the economy, but health care, climate change, housing policy and much else.
Klein finished with: "I'm not saying whether this is good or bad."
I think it's probably bad. Economics has been afforded a strange, special status in our society. It's become the master science of large-scale planning. It's become psychohistory.
Except it's not cut out to be either of those things. There are simply too many important values in the world that we can't tally in monetary terms. (And when we try, it's a hack -- better than nothing, but still a hack.)
Well, one caveat: To the degree it's been able to absorb social insights from other fields -- sociology, cognitive psychology, math, law, even some biology -- sometimes "economics" is just a convenient umbrella for a lot of very different tools.
But that integrative role needn't belong to economics alone. I think certain kinds of social scientists, and certain kinds of historians, could frame big policy decisions just as well -- or better -- than economists.
"Now do it bigger! And more humble."
Fredo Rides Again
Who cares, because I love it. It's the same layered sound as Sad Song, along with an even more free-form approach to video. 4:3? 16:9? Boring! Inspect one of the circles, or the hexagon, to see what I mean.
Cross-reference this with the combinatorial Cold War Kids and you are on your way to something important.
Update: Wow, there's more (older stuff?) I hadn't seen. Moon After Berceuse is a time-merge media music video. Imagine playing in an ensemble with alternate versions of yourself. Or time-traveling backward and forward, 30 seconds at a time, to fill in different parts of a song. My head just exploded.
Lost Memory of Tianenmen
God, this is amazing. James Fallows writes:
I have spent a lot of time over the past three years with Chinese university students. They know a lot about the world, and about American history, and about certain periods in their own country's past. Virtually everyone can recite chapter and verse of the Japanese cruelties in China from the 1930s onward, or the 100 Years of Humiliation, or the long background of Chinese engagement with Tibet. Through their own family's experiences, many have heard of the trauma of the Cultural Revolution years and the starvation and hardship of the Great Leap Forward. But you can't assume they will ever have heard of what happened in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago. For a minority of people in China, the upcoming date of June 4 has tremendous significance. For most young people, it's just another day.
Emphasis mine. It's one thing to have an event downplayed, recast, mythologized, whatever. It's another to have it erased.
June 1, 2009
The Earth is Hiring (Extended Remix)
I gave Paul Hawken's "the earth is hiring" commencement speech mixed marks, but I feel like I should upgrade my assessment, because it did one of the best things any piece of rhetoric can do: It started an interesting conversation.
I have never been able to warm to an argument that posits "the Earth" as a central player. The earth is not hiring.
Rather, each graduate will help build a world from the materials left to them from past generations of humans and other living creatures. Their challenge is to work together to build a good world for themselves and for the next generations that will come.
Tim called this the "now do it bigger, and more humble" approach... and I can already tell that this going to become a recurring phrase on Snarkmarket.
But Saheli says:
...but I also think the reason why that too big/more humble canvas doesn't work for many people is their brains are not widescreen enough to properly count disappearing possibilities; and their engines are not rational enough to abstain from some large source of affection, approval and courtship. By Deifying the Earth and ennumerating Her gifts, Hawken provides that external motivator and waves away the necessity for rationally understanding the dangers of failure. So I understand your critique, but I can see why Hawken's metaphorical fancy makes more sense for a large class of college graduates.
"Their engines are not rational enough." What a great phrase.
From there we get into supernova-prevention schemes and the ethics of museum guards with guns. This is a thread you gotta read.
May 30, 2009
The Earth Is Hiring
Commencement season continues! Nice one from Paul Hawken:
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
I like this bit, too:
There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.
If his speech has a failing, it's that is goes too big, too fast. You gotta ground yourself, earn the graduating class's trust, before you reach for the "CAN YOU FEEL THE VERY STARS THEMSELVES IN YOUR CELLS?" lines, but Hawken sorta jumps right in.
He keeps it pretty abstract, too, and I can imagine an aspiring financial analyst in the crowd going, "Uh... does this apply to me?" And of course it does, but Hawken doesn't connect the dots.
That said, it's got enough stirring lines to reward a reading.
May 27, 2009
The New Psychohistory
Paul Krugman reminds us of the awesome fact that he got into economics because he read the Foundation series as a kid. In the series, there's a character named Hari Seldon who studies psychohistory -- the imaginary super-socio-economics that allows you to predict mass-scale human behavior using quantitative models. He shows up as a hologram at various point in the series' long chronology, long after he's dead, saying: "I pretty much predicted what you will be doing right now." And he's always right!
Anyway, it made me remember seeing, in the new issue of Wired, that Google's chief economist Hal Varian admitted the same thing!
"In Isaac Asimov's first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics."
This makes me want to come up with some new, imaginary discipline and write a series of books around it, expressly in order to inspire a generation of smart young people to find ways to do it in real life. They will fail, but they will do such cool things along the way!
Google I/O Ignite Talk Links
Just a place to put a few links relevant to the Google I/O Ignite talk (20 slides! 5 minutes! GO!) I'm about to give, mostly for the benefit of people at the talk:
May 26, 2009
The Right Combination
You are awesome.
May 25, 2009
NLA Micro-Teaser Update
The very final pieces have just now locked into place. There's still a bit of work to be done -- most of it involving moving atoms from place to place -- but the New Liberal Arts book is coming very, very soon. And you're going to love it.
Two Houses, Both Alike in Awesomeness
Nav over at Scrawled in Wax just blew my mind, twice:
May 24, 2009
I don't wear glasses, but have always wished I did. Once, in college, I was getting a lot of headaches, and I realized it: This was my chance! So I went to the eye doctor, basically begging for glasses. His response: "Um. Your eyes are fine. I mean, I guess I could prescribe the closest thing to plain glass that is not in fact plain glass."
So he did, and I got my glasses -- which I never wore, because come on, who can remember to wear glasses when you don't actually have to? I still have them; they sit, dusty, at the bottom of a drawer.
All of this is to say that a) I like glasses a lot, and b) if you're looking for non-hipster glasses options, maybe you should peruse this wonderful post over at A Continuous Lean. I hope to make use of it in 10-20 years, after decades of blogging have finally pulled my eyes out of focus.
May 22, 2009
International Relations Primer
Stephen Walt, whose column I've been enjoying over at Foreign Policy, has a list of ten international relations articles you must read.
Unfortunately it looks like only one of them is available online for free. (Will do some googling this weekend to confirm/deny this.)
You know what would be cool, though? If FP paid to license these articles and hosted them at FP.com.
One neat role a media company can play in today's weird world: It can "ransom" content from a thicket of licenses to make it available in a simple, useful way. (I think the way we make tons of library music available to producers in our VCAM program at Current is an example of this.)
An End to Ghostly Labors (2009)
Hey! Whoah! Matthew Crawford's "Shop Class as Soulcraft" returns -- in the NYT Mag, and apparently soon as a book!
Can you say ahead of the curve?
Returning to the essay (and the post), I'm struck again by that phrase "the most ghostly kinds of work." Back in 2006 it sounded like email and Powerpoint. Now it sounds like CDOs and exotic derivatives, too.
Crawford's new piece in the NYT Mag is great. This seems as clear an articulation as any of what you should be looking for in a job:
As I sat in my K Street office, Fred's life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun.
I also think this is incredibly crisp and correct:
A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.
This is important stuff.
May 21, 2009
A Conservative Vision
I love Dave Eggers' style and spirit, but...
Nothing has changed! The written word -- the love of it and the power of the written word -- it hasn't changed. It's a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith. Don't get down. I actually have established an e-mail address, email@example.com -- if you want to take it down -- if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying (the next issue of McSweeney's will be a newspaper -- we're going to prove that it can make it. It comes out in September). If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you're wrong.
...this is demonstrably untrue, and far worse -- if you consider what an idea factory McSweeney's and 826 National have been -- it's uncreative. "Don't get down" is 100% the wrong advice.
OK, so here's my pitch for the right advice -- just a simple rewrite:
Everything is changing! The written word -- the love of it and the power of the written word -- is still as powerful as ever, but it's undergoing a seismic shift. If we care about the deep, durable stuff, then we need to get moving and get learning. Don't simply have faith that things will work out; work them out. It's time to get down to it. I actually have established an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org -- if invention seizes you by the scalp, if you see that publishing is changing and print is morphing and books are evolving and newspapers are rebooting and you want to be part of it (the next issue of McSweeney's will be an E-Ink prototype -- we're going to do something with the medium you've never seen before). If you have any ideas, e-mail me, and I will help you make them real.
Even if you're not a developer, you should sign up for the Amazon Web Services email list. Think of it as a newsletter about the cutting edge of cloud computing. Even if half of it doesn't make sense to you, it sets an enviable example -- both in terms of Amazon's pace of innovation and the way they communicate about new stuff.
Anyway, the newest program? Send Amazon a hard drive and they'll load it into Amazon S3 for you. This would be useful if you had, for instance, a petabyte of raw data that would take two weeks to upload via the internet but two days to get to Amazon via FedEx. I love it.
May 20, 2009
The Combinatorial Music Video
As it's being created, any song, picture, game, blog post -- anything -- is like an electron cloud. There are lots of ways it could be (but won't). And a lot of the choices along the way are pretty arbitrary. So, hey: Here, take the whole cloud!
I think this is totally awesome. Art as combinatorial matrix. "Hey, did you hear the new Cold War Kids single?" "Which one?" "Oh... green-green-red-blue." "Yeah! LOVE that combination."
Okay, okay, I know this implementation is pretty simple. But I like that about it. I also like the fact that it's so accessible; it's not like twelve channels of evolving white noise that you can mix-and-match.
Games, Architecture, the Good Stuff
BLDGBLOG's interview with Jim Rossignol has got my brain a-sparking. Rossignol wrote a book called The Gaming Life that I now want to get; it's a tour of gaming cultures in London, Seoul, and Reykjavik.
Lots to recommend in the interview (it's long) but here's a nugget that I liked. Why doesn't game development seem to have the same fast-paced froth as, say, open-source web stuff? Well...
Rossignol: At the last game developers conference in San Francisco, one of my colleagues said to me that perhaps what was most interesting were all the ideas that were walking around inside the heads of the developers -- the ideas that they wouldn't talk about, or stuff they kept secret because it was too good and too commercially important for their companies. It did make me wonder whether the fact that games are so commercial stunts their futurology -- after all, if game developers were given free rein to be pure creatives, I think there would be a massive exchange of ideas. This kind of accelerated avalanche of development could come out of there being no limits on sharing ideas. It makes it very difficult for game designers to get the ideas they need to make games better -- because they're going to be protected, or hidden, or otherwise held back by commercial concern.
Hmm... ideas too valuable to share. At this week's Long Now lecture, I heard Paul Romer talk about the incredible economic benefits of, er, sharing ideas. This strikes me as an interesting challenge, especially because games -- more than, say, movies or books -- can scaffold off of each other so effectively, both in terms of tech tools and play mechanics.
Here's one other bit, really just an aside, from Geoff that I liked. Not related to games at all. He's working at an architect's office in London, and...
At one point, I found a bunch of tapes that were nothing but surveillance footage taken inside Wembley Stadium. It was unlabeled, black and white footage of people milling about outside the bathrooms, near the ticket gate, and so on -- and my initial thought was actually that some sort of crime must have taken place. There had been a stabbing, or a riot -- and, I thought, maybe even someone here at Foster & Partners had been involved. That's why we had the tapes. Then again, that's how it always is with surveillance tapes: you're always waiting for something to happen on them. All CCTV footage of road traffic, for instance, looks like CCTV footage taken right before an accident.
Wow. That is a novelist-caliber insight. "All CCTV footage of road traffic, for instance, looks like CCTV footage taken right before an accident." Unpack that. It's like five dimensions of Our Modern Situation compressed into an evocative visual metaphor. This is the kinda stuff you get reading BLDGBLOG.
May 19, 2009
In This Civil War Reconstruction, The Union Has Dinosaurs
The attraction, called "Professor Cline's Dinosaur Kingdom," imagines a lost chapter from Civil War history. It supposes that in 1863, a group of paleontologists inadvertently stumbled upon a valley of live dinosaurs. The discovery comes to the attention of the Union Army, who, recognizing the destructive power of the giant lizards, decide to capture them and unleash them on the Confederate Army. Naturally, it results in Jurassic Park-inspired carnage.
H/t to friend (and former student) Drea Nelson.
Like Two Halves of My Brain, Battling
I've been posting more links to my Twitter account lately. But sometimes it feels vaguely like cheating on Snarkmarket. On the other hand, sometimes the links don't feel cool or noteworthy enough for Snarkmarket, which is precisely why I post them to Twitter. On the other other hand, maybe everybody just subscribes to both feeds, so who cares?
Quick gut-check: More short links here? Fewer?
From Photo to Painting
I Always Wanted To Live In A Knights Templar's Castle
If only I had 6 million EUR lying around:
Château de La Jarthe was once a refuge for the Order of the Knights Templar, the secretive Christian military order that once wreaked havoc in the region.
Located on 120 hectares (297 acres) in the Dordogne near Périgueux, the restored castle offers many of the amenities buyers might expect in a 12th-century castle ruled by the order, including a chapel, massive fireplaces, stained glass windows and a 102-square-meter (1,098-square-foot) gathering hall known as the Knights Room. Many of the original medieval features remain, such as flagstone beamed ceilings, hand-carved wood details and an old granary.
Exactly what havoc did the KTs supposedly wreak in France? In and around Jerusalem, sure -- but in France, they mostly got slapped around by King Philip. Unless I'm mistaken.
May 18, 2009
Somebody Pull a Craigslist on Craigslist
Earlier today, Kurt Andersen said:
Yesterday I told Craig Newmark that craigslist had effectively expropriated newspapers' classified-ad business and put it in escrow....
Right theme; wrong approach. Instead, how 'bout we do what Daniel Bachhuber suggests: out-compete Craigslist.
I don't agree with all of Daniel's points. But I do think that he's directionally correct. On today's web, Craigslist is feeling awfully creaky and old-school. There's an opportunity for disruption there.
Yo Can I Get Some Better Eyes
The galaxy rises. Oh, hi, galaxy. Have you been there all along?
Will people in the not-so-distant future be horrified that we saw so much of the world through naked eyes, unaugmented -- and, for that reason, missed so much of it?
The Transit of the Atlantis
The full image of the transit of the Atlantic across the face of the sun is terrific; a lot of people are posting the cropped image and it doesn't do it justice at all. The full disc of the sun is what makes it seem really iconic, even mythic, to me. I saw somebody write that it looked like modern art; like a giant Gerhard Richter painting.
This Presidential NatSec Briefing Brought to You by 123Publish
To me, the thing that's striking about these national security briefings isn't the hokey combo of Bible verses and combat pics, it's the amateurish design. Something tells me whoever creates Obama's briefing papers has to consult a 133-page stylebook.
Now That's What I Call "Inventio"
[Obama's] eloquence is different from what I think of as rhetorical prettiness -- words and phrases that catch your notice as you hear them, and that often can be quoted, remembered, and referred to long afterwards. "Ask not..." from John F. Kennedy. "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat" from Winston Churchill. "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from FDR. "I have a dream," from Martin Luther King. Or, to show that memorable language does not necessarily mean elevated thought, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" from the early George C. Wallace.
At rare moments in history, language that goes beyond prettiness to beauty is matched with original, serious, difficult thought to produce the political oratory equivalent of Shakespeare. By acclamation Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is the paramount American achievement of this sort: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right..."
The reason to distinguish eloquence of thought from prettiness of expression is that the former tells you something important about the speaker, while the latter may or may not do so. Hired assistants can add a fancy phrase, much as gag writers can supply a joke. Not even his greatest admirers considered George W. Bush naturally expressive, but in his most impressive moment, soon after the 9/11 attacks, he delivered a speech full of artful writerly phrases, eg: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." Good for him, and good for his staff.
Rhetorical polish, that is, can be a staff-enhanced virtue. The eloquence that comes from original thought is much harder to hire, or to fake. This is the sort of eloquence we've seen from Obama often enough to begin to expect.
(Sorry for the long quote, but I wanted to include all of Fallows's examples.)
Inventio is the system or method used for the discovery of arguments in Western rhetoric and comes from the Latin word, meaning "invention" or "discovery". Inventio is the central, indispensable canon of rhetoric, and traditionally means a systematic search for arguments (Glenn and Goldthwaite 151).
Inventio comes from the Latin invenire, meaning "to find" or "to come upon". The same Latin root later gave us the English word inventor. Invenire is derived from the Greek heuriskein, also meaning "to find out" or "discover" (cf. eureka, "I have found it").
May 17, 2009
Urban Sky Edens of the Future
Reading through this month's Communication Arts, I encountered an article on the High Line, an abandoned elevated rail platform in NYC. After the line went fallow in 1980, Nature reclaimed it. Trees, grasses and wildflowers overgrew the tracks, turning it into an urban wonder -- a wild garden in the sky. Due to years of legal wrangling, the line somehow never got demolished. So a group of dreamers calling themselves Friends of the High Line assembled a coalition of influential hipster sympathizers to turn it into a park. Back in 2007, New York Magazine chronicled the rail line's evolution from urban ruin to civic treasure. Kottke's been blogging it since 2004, so I may be the last nerd-hipster to hear about it. If I'm not, photos of the thing abound, so do spend some time enjoying them.
Photo from Flickr user cdstar, licensed under Creative Commons. Feel free to make derivative works off this post, if you'd like.
May 16, 2009
Frühling Für Hitler Und Vaterland
A German adaptation of Mel Brooks's The Producers opens in Berlin.
May 15, 2009
Another One from Michael Pollan
This guy is has mastered the art of the useful epigram. Here's another one to go along with "eat sunlight, not oil":
Don't buy any food you've ever seen advertised.
May 13, 2009
Curtis Roads, Aaron McLeran, and the Future of Music
Curtis Roads is one of the pioneers of computer music, and he's not done pioneering yet. He calls the current era of electronic music its "golden age," because sound is more plastic than ever before:
Electronic music extends the domain of composition from a closed, homogenous set of notes ... to an open universe of heterogeneous sound objects ... All of a sudden, we're working with any sound possible. And that really changes the game.
Early case in point: Friend-of-Snark Aaron McLeran, who wrote the score for EPIC 2014 back in the day and now works with Roads at UCSB, has been investigating a new kind of synthesis that gives you more flexible, high-fidelity control over sound samples than ever before. Here's an explanation and example. (Be sure to play the sample files.) Check out some of Aaron's other work, too -- it's like the online lab of a mad audio scientist!
Update: Aaron has a new blog -- Digital Poesis.
It Is Not Logical
Andrew Hungerford -- aka the smartest, funniest dramatist * astrophysicist = lighting director you should know -- has written the best post on the physical holes in the new Star Trek movie that I think can be written.
Basically, almost nothing in the movie makes sense, either according to the laws established in our physical universe or the facts established in the earlier TV shows and movies.
Wherever possible, Andy provides a valiant and charitable interpretation of what he sees, based (I think) on the theory that "what actually happened" is consistent with the laws of physics, but that these events are poorly explained, characters misspeak, or the editing of the film is misleading. (I love that we sometimes treat Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., like the "historical documents" in Galaxy Quest -- accounts of things that REALLY happened, but that are redramatized or recorded and edited for our benefit, as opposed to existing ONLY within a thinly fictional frame.)
If you haven't seen the movie yet, you probably shouldn't read the post. It will just bother you when you're watching it, like Andy was bothered. If you have, and you feel like being justifiably bothered (but at the same time profoundly enlightened), check it out right now. I mean, now.
Twitter's Bigger Than a Mere Integer
Twitter's status IDs -- the unique numbers that identify each tweet -- are about to cross the line where they can be expressed by a signed, 32-bit integer, which only goes from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,648. This might mean that there have been about two billion tweets so far.
This thread reminding Twitter API developers about the change is interesting, even if you don't understand all of it. Lots and lots of bugs have been caused by programmers thinking: "Pshaw! This number will never get that big..." -- and indeed, the system I built for Current's twitterized election coverage will be rendered inoperational when tweets cross the 32-bit threshold. (Luckily, web apps are a lot easier to upgrade and fix than space probes.)
Okay, I realize this post might be really boring. I've always been unaccountably fascinated by the limits imposed by computer architecture -- length of numbers, number of colors, size of files, etc.
Also: Two billion tweets! Whoah!
May 12, 2009
The Story of a Life
Wow. This anecdote from the new Atlantic article about long lives and happiness is... stunning. I can't believe it's true:
In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they're future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs -- protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections -- but in the short term actually put us at risk. That's because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.
To illustrate his point, he told a story about one of his "prize" Grant Study men, a doctor and well-loved husband. "On his 70th birthday," Vaillant said, "when he retired from the faculty of medicine, his wife got hold of his patient list and secretly wrote to many of his longest-running patients, 'Would you write a letter of appreciation?' And back came 100 single-spaced, desperately loving letters -- often with pictures attached. And she put them in a lovely presentation box covered with Thai silk, and gave it to him." Eight years later, Vaillant interviewed the man, who proudly pulled the box down from his shelf. "[Dr. Vaillant], I don't know what you're going to make of this," the man said, as he began to cry, "but I've never read it." "It's very hard," Vaillant said, "for most of us to tolerate being loved."
You gotta read this article. It's weird and long and counterintuitive and interesting.
X, Y, and F#
Here's how St. Vincent wrote her new album:
Annie Clark, who does business as St. Vincent, wrote much of her new album, "Actor," by drawing, not playing. Mainly a guitarist, Clark began the album in a French hotel room in December of 2007, using GarageBand software and a pair of headphones, "drawing notes one by one, until they sounded how they should sound."
I am not a good musician, but for what it's worth, I've always found the piano-roll grid of computer music apps a million times more intuitive than either music notation or (worse) music language -- e.g. "Okay, give me a G-major!" My brain just doesn't work that way.
I like this part best: "...until they sounded how they should sound." You can have Ableton Live (and lots of other programs too) just loop through the sub-section you're working on, again and again. You tweak it as it's looping, adding and moving notes, listening to the differences. Nudging and scraping the sound like clay.
May 11, 2009
The Tyranny of Solving Problems
Here's a great bit of counter-conventional-wisdom from Jack Schulze. He's talking about design:
4) Some people (they are wrong) say design is about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention. There are some people who want to reduce the domain of design to listable, knowable stuff, so it's easy to talk about. Design is a glamorous, glittering world and this means they can engage without having to actually risk themselves on the outcome of their work. This is damaging. It turns design into something terrified of invention. Design is about risk. We all fear authentic public response to our work, but we have to be brave enough to overcome.
On one level, I really respect people who believe that a craft, or a career, should be about Solving Problems, and that everything else is ego, excess, decoration, distraction.
On another level, really? The world is just a set of problems to be fixed? Wounds to be healed? Boxes to be checked? Doesn't seem correct.
I like Schulze's word: invention. Maybe we need more self-identified inventors.
Just the Gentlest Crease
It's just barely-folded paper.
Games and Novels
Joanne McNeil finds a tasty nugget about games and novels.
I like the idea of writing a novel the way you'd write a game. Maybe the end-product is completely traditional -- two covers, 300 pages, plain ol' paper -- but the behind-the-scenes process is very different. Dozens of little Ruby scripts. You combinatorially create 10,000 character sketches and put them all on Mechanical Turk to see which ones resonate. Then drop those characters into a text-based world simulation. Make them autonomous agents with goals and desires. See what happens. Mine the simulation for interesting interactions, and then write those up into polished prose.
That's the key: You use the tools and techniques of video games not as the final product -- you're not trying to generate "automatic fiction" here -- but simply as powerful scaffolding to help you write an interesting story. This combinatorial/probabilistic thing is a huge part of the natural creative process anyway; in this scenario, you just admit it, and then augment it. Plug it into a server cluster.
This is probably not what any of the people in Joanne's post are talking about. But I think it sounds fun.
Related: The widely-linked game/poem Today I Die is a weird little delight. Takes five minutes... if you're smart!
May 10, 2009
Crack This Code
Wow. Gotta say... even in an era of wireless internet, touch screens, and 3D games, the Enigma machine looks pretty badass. It's completely info-steampunk. And the rotor system is sooo evocative. Like magic medallions. Really, Indiana Jones shoulda had his hands on an Enigma machine at some point.
Oops, Turns Out That's Poison Ivy After All
The Ideas! The Ideas! Part... Whatever
Charlie Jane Anders, "Why Dollhouse Really Is Joss Whedon's Greatest Work":
The evil in Dollhouse is harder to deal with than the evil in Buffy because it's our evil. It's our willingness to strip other people of their humanity in order to get what we need from them. It's our eagerness to give up our humanity and conform to other people's expectations, in exchange for some vaguely promised reward. And it's our tendency to put any new piece of technology to whatever uses we can think of, whether they're positive or utterly destructive.
And that last bit, about technology, is the other main reason why Dollhouse is Whedon's most accomplished work, especially if you love science fiction like we do. Unlike Joss' other works, Dollhouse really is about the impact of new technology on society. It asks the most profound question any SF can ask: how would we (as people) change if a new technology came along that allowed us to...? In this case, it's a technology that allows us to turn brains into storage media: We can erase, we can record, we can copy. It's been sneaking up on us, but Dollhouse has slowly been showing how this radically changes the whole conception of what it means to be human. You can put my brain into someone else's body, you can keep my personality alive after I die, and you can keep my body around but dispose of everything that I would consider "me."
May 8, 2009
Obama's Promise To A Soldier
Shhh -- don't ask, don't tell's days are numbered:
H/t to Howard Weaver.
May 6, 2009
Videos in B Flat
Oh, this is too cool. Musicians record simple videos, all in the same key. Play, pause, mix-and-match at will.
May 5, 2009
Letters That Aren't Letters
There's a building on a pier near Current HQ in San Francisco. Written on the side of the building, black against very dark gray, are giant letters. Or, at least they appear to be letters. Some definitely are -- one's an E, for sure. But the others are just on the edge of comprehension: Is that an N? Is that one a W? You run through the permutations in your head, trying to settle on a combination that forms a word. Nothing works. You can feel your brain spinning its wheels -- but not giving up, because come on, recognizing letters is what brains do! After too many tries (and trust me, I've tried it a lot) it's actually a bit painful.
Here's that same experience, only thousands of times deeper and more beautiful. Maybe still a bit painful, though?
Okay, so. I feel like we are all sitting around joking about swine flu and arguing about Twitter and Kevin Kelly is sitting in his study in Pacifica unraveling the secrets of the universe.
Help Me Build a Set of Short-Story Feeds
I really like A. O. Scott's suggestion, via David Hayes, that there might be a new, more vital market for short stories sometime in the near future, thanks mostly to the Kindle (and maybe the iPhone, too).
I want to build a quick list of places on the web where new short stories are being posted with some regularity. Here's what I have to start:
Hmm. Yeah. Gonna need some help here.
Bonus points for sources that are outside the MFA-matrix... I'm especially looking for short stories with a popular sensibility. But I'll take anything. I'm sure you've got a few, just off the top of your head...!
May 4, 2009
Joshua Benton over at NiemanLab is right: NPRbackstory is brilliant. Mostly because it's so simple: A script takes trending Google searches as input, queries the NPR API, and spits out related stories. But the related stories aren't necessarily new; sometimes they're years old. And that's a feature, not a bug.
"The NPR content is more rich in its breadth than it is in timeliness," Keith said. "That's probably true of most news archives. But the Internet places a high value on timeliness, and I was looking at the API saying, 'There's nothing timely here!'"
So he hit on the idea of providing the backstory to subjects currently in the news. "I think there's this yearning for meaning in our content," he said. "We want a lot of the same information, but packaged differently. I thought something that looked at the context or the background for something would be something I'd welcome seeing in my Twitter feed."
Reasons to like this:
- Gives good journalism a boost up out of the archives and back into view.
- Reveals hidden context behind the things people are talking about today. (P.S. Our memories are short.)
- The entire app is a few APIs stitched together with Yahoo! Pipes. How can you not love that?
Here's the Twitter feed.
May 3, 2009
Michigan Boy Makes Good
There are some good lines in Larry Page's commencement speech at U of M. Here's the one-sentence summary of how to change the world:
Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting.
Also, how to know if you're taking big enough risks:
You're probably on the right track if you feel like a sidewalk worm during a rainstorm.
It's a Weird, Weird World
I admit it, I had to read up on Mine That Bird, the out-of-nowhere Kentucky Derby winner. This bit of backstory is from ESPN.com:
So why did he win and win in a runaway? It had to have been a combination of factors, starting with the track condition. He caught a sloppy track, which had to have moved him up. With a limited sample, sire Birdstone is producing 23 percent winners on the off going. (Ironically, Birdstone ran eighth in the 2004 Derby in the slop in one of the worst races of his career). He is out of an unraced Smart Strike mare and Smart Strike is among the better slop sires out there. His offspring win 19 percent of the time on wet tracks.
Slop sire? Jeeeez. Horse racing is the only sport (or whatever it is) that actually involves heredity as a, like, strategy, right?
May 2, 2009
"The Problem With Cable Is Television"
But, it turns out, the problem with television is sports:
The broadband business is doing fine, as costs are coming down. Cable executives do worry that if costs rise as they expect because of surging online video use, they will need to find some way to get prices going up the way they are used to in their video business.
The bigger question is what happens to the video business. By all accounts, Web video is not currently having any effect on the businesses of the cable companies. Market share is moving among cable, satellite and telephone companies, but the overall number of people subscribing to some sort of pay TV service is rising. (The government's switch to digital over-the-air broadcasts is providing a small stimulus to cable companies.) However, if you remember, it took several years before music labels started to feel any pain from downloads...
The wedge that breaks all this may well be sports. ESPN alone already accounts for nearly $3 of every monthly cable bill, industry executives say. With all these new sports networks pushing up cable rates, at some point people who aren't sports fans might start turning in volume to Internet services like Netflix. We're not there yet, but looking at the industry in the last quarter, you can see the pressures building.
Fascinating (and quick!) look at cable companies' businesses. [Everything in bold is my emphasis.]
May 1, 2009
Turn of Phrase
I like it:
A shower in the middle of the day grants precisely the feeling that eating breakfast for dinner or rearranging the furniture in your room does. It's pleasing because it is different and voluntary but not immediately repeatable.
It's hard to say what exactly Magic Molly's subject is. Strange food, city people, and the things you notice sitting alone in a room, mostly. But all wrapped up in one of the best written voices on the web today.
Unique Viewers / Unique Readers
According to the webmaster, some hundreds of thousands of people (or "unique visitors," in the creepily Rumsfeldean turn) have read my posts over the year. Yes, in the web-world, where a nipple slip can net you a million sets of eyes in a breathless blink and click, these are Lilliputian numbers. In my world, however, those are towering digits, enormous for what they might say about the reading life: that there is still, in our noisy culture, a quiet but forcible interest in finding good books to read, and in debating what makes books good.
We "unique readers" know this, in our solitary hours. But it is pleasing, at times, to have company in that knowledge, to know that one isn't alone in one's enthusiasms. For my part, I have taken great pleasure in the enthusiasm of readers for this space, and am grateful for the time you've spent here. For now, know that I'm turning my attention to other tasks, with the expectation, at some point future, of returning to one not unlike this.
I can't quite put my finger on what I like about this farewell address (other than that I really like Mason's blog) -- all of the sentiments and tropes are expected, but their subtle, daisy-chained resonances are so gracefully done that it feels both fresh and sincere.
Kinda wish it didn't have the profile URL at the bottom. Then it would feel like a more honest representation of what people actually do in to check each other out in 2009.
If I lived in NYC I would buy one of these maps now. There's technology and whimsy at play here; good combo. Rationale for the map:
Because the ability to be in a city and to see through it is a superpower, and it's how maps should work.
April 30, 2009
OMG I am spending so much money on Kindle-ized books. Amazon has already made its margin on me twice over, I am 100% sure. Guess I should recommend some, huh?
- A Free Life by Ha Jin. Sublime tone. I just cannot get over the fact that Ha Jin writes this well in his second language, which he learned relatively late in life. It's a modern immigrant story, full of detail and surprise.
- The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll. I thought this book was going to be 50% Bin Laden family, 50% Osama Bin Laden -- something like that. Nope. There's plenty of OBL, but he's really just a small piece of the tapestry. You gotta read about Salem Bin Laden, the patriarch of the clan for a big part of the 20th century. He is as strange a character as OBL himself -- and couldn't be more different.
- Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells. Mentioned this already. Makes the Dark Ages seem rich and textured -- not just, uh, dark.
- Stealth Democracy: Americans' Beliefs About How Government Should Work by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. Actually, I think I'll save this one for a different post. Very counter-intuitive findings.
- Daemon by Daniel Suarez. The Da Vinci Code meets Cryptonomicon meets Advanced Topics in Network Security. Lots of adjectives and adverbs here, but if you're in it for the ideas, not the crystalline prose, it's very worthwhile. Embedded in the Clancy-squared plot machinations are solid signals about the future of the internet.
Crucial update: It wasn't on Kindle, but I read, and loved, Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I haven't read a ton of his other books, but this slim little volume was a dream. Hard to tell to what degree the translation reflects the original, of course, but the language is wonderfully direct and down-to-earth. Add it to the growing of canon of work that says: It's not about bright, blinding genius; it's about hard work -- where "it" is the creative, technical, or athletic endeavor of your choice.
Nom De Whatever
Intriguing aside in this Slate article by Huan Hsu on office workers in China adopting English names:
In the United States, people tend to view names and identities as absolute things—which explains why I agonized over deciding on an English name—but in China, identities are more amorphous. My friend Sophie flits amongst her Chinese name, English name, MSN screen name, nicknames she uses with her friends, and diminutives that her parents call her. "They're all me," she says. "A name is just a dai hao." Dai hao, or code name, can also refer to a stock's ticker symbol.
You Want Bookporn? Oh, Man. We Got Some Bookporn.
VERY mature books (is 8000 BC old enough?) with an astonishingly sexy zoom feature -- similar to Google Maps, but smoother and more natural, especially with a two-finger trackpad. It's all yours, for free, at the World Digital Library.
April 29, 2009
Eat Sunlight Instead of Oil
Wow. Has Michael Pollan been using this phrase for a while already? It is genius. From the latest Long Now email newsletter:
Eat sunlight instead of oil, and eat as if your health depended on it. American agriculture and food marketing can be reorganized around those goals.
It's like a chemistry lesson and a parable, all in five words. Poetic, scientific, and mythic all at once. Totally abstract and symbolic, but it also renders a vivid image: Mmm, warm sunlight! Eww, gross oil.
Pollan is doing a Long Now talk next week in SF. Very excited.
I realize these self-links are a little lame. But... I like what I said here: What's the future of the book in the age of video?
April 28, 2009
April 26, 2009
Finding Würde in America
Been recently fascinated with learning more about health care, reading a lot of Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn, catching up on essays by the likes of Paul Krugman and Atul Gawande. And the best thing I've read so far is this wonkish-but-accessible interview with health care policy super-couple Uwe Reinhardt and Tsung-mei Cheng. The interview teases out a number of distinctive policy critiques and ideas that aren't surfaced in most of the layperson-friendly health policy lit I've come across, like this point about the oft-derided drug company profiteers:
If you look at total drug company profits in a given year, of every retail dollar sale, drug companies who manufacture the stuff get 75 cents. And of that, they make 16, 15 percent profit. So if you multiply that out, we have about $220 billion in drug sales; that's about, say, $25 billion in profits. Now, that is a lot; you can buy two Princetons for that. However, if you then divide $25 billion through $2.2 trillion in national health spending, you get 1.2 percent; that is, drug company profits are 1.2 percent of total national health spending.
This was from Frontline's excellent "Sick Around the World" documentary, where they profiled the health care systems of five developed countries and compared them to the US system. See also: Frontline's follow-up, "Sick Around America." (Note: T.R. Reid, the correspondent on "Sick Around the World," refused to participate in "Sick Around America" after he found that the producers shafted the option of single-payer health care in the final edit.)
Swine Flu and the City
There's a lot to process here, but it's worth it: BLDGBLOG's post about disease and urban planning is the most interesting thing you'll read all day.
The roots of modernism in sanatorium design. Office space built around the transmission properties of the common cold. Settlers of Catan: Outbreak Edition. Doctors holding seminars in the sewers of Paris.
Like a little virus in its own right, this post will take up residence in your brain. It's made all the more satisfying for seeing its roots -- early symptoms -- over on @bldgblog.
This Is How a Public Intellectual Works TodayTM.
April 25, 2009
Audio For Dummies
Copyblogger lays out some guidelines for producing engaging podcasts or other audio recordings. Please note that if you maximize every suggestion, you wind up with a perfect episode of Radio Lab. This seems like a halfway-decent validation of their merit.
April 24, 2009
Commenting on Comments
Virginia Heffernan has a blog post up about comments and how generally awful they are, especially on big news websites. I think her observation is fair, and raises a good larger question: What's the future of comments on the web? I think they're pretty broken right now, especially at scale. They're not really conversations at all; they're a cross between an old-school web guestbook (people merely registering their existence) and a black hole (scraps of text flung into the void, never to be seen or heard from again).
But, let's not talk about it here.
I left a comment on the post, and I think you should do the same. Snarkmarket readers know something about commenting; I think we've got some of the best commenters around, and together we have some of the best conversations.
And there's something delightfully meta about this post about bad comments having the best comments ever.
P.S. I believe, broadly, in the value of moderation, but man, it's annoying that my comment is not posted over on the NYT yet. If you don't see it, wait a few minutes. Not a few hours, I hope.
Please, More Literary Theory Radio Shows, Please
If you've got twenty-five minutes to listen to two smart + funny people talk about Marcel Duchamp, Ezra Pound, comparative literature, American poetry, and French philosophy, give this podcast a whirl. It's by two of my teachers (and friends, and readers), the poet Charles Bernstein and literary critic Jean-Michel Rabaté. It's an intelligent and charming interview that could be subtitled "the stuff Tim thinks about all of the time."
April 23, 2009
The Loss Of Routine Beauty
Not that long ago, all books were handmade; now, most of the work is performed by armies of cleverly machined presses and binderies. Lost, in that consumptive progression, is not the beautiful book -- for many special books made by machine do manage to be beautiful objects that function well. Lost is the ordinary book being routinely beautiful.
Rats, I Ran Out of Words
Speaking of writing: I've been thinking about video, the grammar of video, video-as-writing, etc. a lot lately (as usual), and it really is crazy how lame and limited video editing is at this moment in history.
The analogy to writing (I know it's a stretch): If writing today were like video editing today, you'd have to start by going out and hunting down all the words you wanted to use -- finding them in other books, on posters, on billboards, and cutting them out. Then you'd sit down and paste them together in a different order. And if you ran out? Or realized you needed a word you didn't have? Too bad!
This is why I'm excited for some sort of future "synthetic cinema" -- a super-extrapolated version of machinima. If you're at your video-writing desk at 2 a.m. and something amazing occurs to you, some wonderful turn of phrase (as it were), you'll be able to simply... make it.
Just read a random entry on Zoe Finkel's blog about waltzing and getting in over your head. It's amazingly good writing.
On the continuum of writing, there is, of course, bad writing; then there's good writing; then there's really good writing that knows it's really good writing, that telegraphs its mastery ("Aha, did you see that thing I just did? With the words? Of course you did!"); and then there's a kind of good writing beyond that, which sort of punctures the veil and achieves a special kind of ease and grace. I'm pretty sure this is an example.
It also has plenty of what Roy Peter Clark describes as "gold coins" (it's writing tool #19) -- little asides, little moments of delight, not necessarily crucial to the central story. Zoe's image of men dancing with other men, and the allusion to Yale, is an example.
April 22, 2009
A Public Broadcasting Facelift
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved -- not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees -- investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans...
They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.
The process was "a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm," a former C.I.A. official said.
In general, I wouldn't think it was a problem not to know the origins of a technique, except for political reasons. But not knowing that the SERE program was designed to help soldiers withstand interrogations that had produced false confessions is inexcusable, especially since this was our program. Not knowing that the psychologist who persuaded the CIA to go for this had never conducted an actual interrogation is similarly mind-boggling. The fact that no one knew what the actual interrogators thought of all this is standard for the Bush administration, but it should not have been.
There are all sorts of experts in our government, including experts on interrogation. There's also more than enough institutional memory to inform the administration about the origins of the SERE program. But the Bush administration, typically, did not bother with them. They preferred to make things up as they went along, because, after all, they always knew better.
This is what happens when we stop demanding minimal competence in our Presidents; when we start caring more about who we would rather have a beer with than, oh, who would be most likely to seek out the best advice and listen to all sides of an argument before making an important decision, or whose judgment we can trust. We end up with people who toss aside our most fundamental values because someone who has never conducted an interrogation before thinks it might be a good idea, and no one bothers to do the basic background research on what he proposes.
April 21, 2009
Nerds Only: Great Java Libraries
This applies only to a small sub-fraction of SMKT readers, but if you're one of them: These Java libraries by Karsten Schmidt, a.k.a. toxi, comprise a sort of Batman utility belt of graphics, geometry, physics, and more. I have used them happily in dozens of dorky experiments -- and now they're freshly upgraded.
April 20, 2009
Pulitzer for PolitiFact
My usual take on the Pulitzer Prizes are that they're cool and deserved, but in no way useful as a guide for where news ought to go. I'm going to have to modulate that a bit; this year's winner for National Reporting is the St. Pete Times site PolitiFact.
So, to be clear: The 2009 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting went not to a story, but to a reported database presented as a user-friendly website. I actually think one of the tectonic plates that make up journalism's history and culture just shifted a little. Rumblerumblerumble. Very cool.
Where's HBO News?
Hmm. David Simon says hey, wait, HBO charges for content -- and it started doing so in a historical context in which people had gotten all TV for free, free, free for decades. So newspapers should get a clue and start doing the same.
But, this made me wonder: Where's HBO News? Is it the case that HBO just considers news too far from its core area of expertise? Or is it the case that HBO ran the numbers and decided that serious news won't attract the kind of audience they need?
Maybe it's that the market for news is too competitive. Relatively few entities produce engrossing, high-end drama; lots and lots of entities produce news. But, then again, you extend the analogy
and it's like, uh, yeah I would watch that.
Any other theories?
April 19, 2009
Do you know what was great? The Hanseatic League. Do you think we could bring that back, twenty-first century style?:
This diffuse, fractured world will be run more by cities and city-states than countries. Once, Venice and Bruges formed an axis that spurred commercial expansion across Eurasia. Today, just 40 city-regions account for two thirds of the world economy and 90 percent of its innovation. The mighty Hanseatic League, a constellation of well-armed North and Baltic Sea trading hubs in the late Middle Ages, will be reborn as cities such as Hamburg and Dubai form commercial alliances and operate "free zones" across Africa like the ones Dubai Ports World is building. Add in sovereign wealth funds and private military contractors, and you have the agile geopolitical units of a neomedieval world. Even during this global financial crisis, multinational corporations heavily populate the list of the world's largest economic entities; the commercial diplomacy of emerging-market firms such as China's Haier and Mexico's Cemex has already turned North-South relations inside out faster than the nonaligned movement ever did.
Wait -- ninety percent of what, exactly? Innovation units?
Brothers In Arms
Most people who know me well know that I have two brothers, one older, and one younger. We're all oversized, bigbrained, bighearted, redheaded guys with Irish names (Sean Patrick, Timothy Brendan, and Kevin Daniel). Sean's a high school math teacher and football coach; Kevin is a counselor/advisor at a liberal arts college. Sean's two years older, and Kevin's a year and a half younger. They are honestly more like each other than I am like either of them, but since I'm in the middle, I was probably equally close to both of them. Kevin and I shared a room together until I was 16; Sean and I went to college and lived together for three years.
This is a long way to go to say that whenever I read about Rahm Emanuel and his brothers, I smile and smile and smile.
April 17, 2009
We Will Learn These Things Together
Oh wow. This just made my week. Jennifer Rensenbrink, author of the New Liberal Arts entry on home economics (which is here and which you'll also be able to get in book form, uh, soon) is writing a new blog about -- you guessed it -- New Home Economics.
My recommendation? Subscribe immediately.
Where's My All-You-Can-Eat Movies?
Farhad Manjoo tries to figure out why nobody's solved the riddle of streaming movies on the internet:
When I called people in the industry this week, I found that many in the movie business understand that online distribution is the future of media. But everything in Hollywood is governed by a byzantine set of contractual relationships between many different kinds of companies—studios, distributors, cable channels, telecom companies, and others. The best way to understand it is to trace what you might call the life cycle of a Hollywood movie, as Starz network spokesman Eric Becker put it to me. We all understand the first couple of steps in this life cycle—first a movie hits theaters and then, a few months later, it comes out on DVD. Around the same time, it also comes out on pay-per-view, available on demand on cable systems, hotel rooms, airplanes, and other devices. Apple's rental store operates under these pay-per-view rules, most of which put a 24-hour limit on movies. The restriction might have made sense back in the days when most people were getting on-demand movies in hotel rooms and the studios didn't want the next night's guest piggybacking on rentals. It doesn't make much sense when you're getting the movie on your MacBook. But many of the contracts were written years ago, and they don't reflect the current technology.
A movie will stay in the pay-per-view market for just a few months; after that, it goes to the premium channels, which get a 15- to 18-month exclusive window in which to show the film. That's why you can't get older titles through Apple's rental plan—once a movie goes to HBO, Apple loses the right to rent it. (Apple has a much wider range of titles available for sale at $15 each; for-sale movies fall under completely different contracts with studios.) Between them, Starz and HBO have contracts to broadcast about 80 percent of major-studio movies made in America today. Their rights extend for seven years or more. After a movie is broadcast on Starz, it makes a tour of ad-supported networks (like USA, TNT, or one of the big-three broadcast networks) and then goes back to Starz for a second run. Only after that—about a decade after the movie came out in theaters—does it enter its "library" phase, the period when companies like Netflix are allowed to license it for streaming. For most Hollywood releases, then, Netflix essentially gets last dibs on a movie, which explains why many of its films are so stale.
I actually think Netflix Watch Instantly is pretty good. It's got the first two seasons of 30 Rock, the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus, some old Woody Allen and Pasolini movies, The Big Sleep, and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. It's not perfect, but neither is Showtime.
April 16, 2009
Bill Reads Books
Enjoyed this post from Steven Johnson on two levels: One, his excitement at having Bill Clinton articulately discuss his book, "The Invention of Air," and two, Clinton's discussion itself.
This bit, from Clinton, made me laugh:
I'm going to make this point later as I wrap up about the importance of books. But the things books do -- I would argue books are more important in the age of blog sites and tweaks and whatever else they call it -- I read a bunch of them -- because there's more information than ever before, but you can have all the facts in the world in your head. If you don't know how to organize and evaluate, construct an argument, get from A to Z, what you know in your head doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
And the reason I noted the post in the first place is that I myself am about halfway through "The Invention of Air," and loving it so far. Highly recommended.
April 15, 2009
Digital Democracy (For Real)
This is actually surprising (and heartening) to me:
For the first time, more than a half the country's voting-age population used the Internet to get political news or get involved in the political process in 2008.
And remember, this kind of change is totally nonlinear -- so the internet is just going to get more important, faster and faster, to politics and democracy.
The WaPo's Jose Antonio Vargas has carved out a pretty excellent beat around this stuff, by the way. He's the one to watch if you're interested in the intersection of democracy and technology.
Winner Take All
Wow. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight (and sequels) accounted for 16% of all book sales in the U.S. in the first three months of 2009.
Probably not that unusual in the weird post-Potter publishing world, I know, but still.
The File Is Its Own Name (Whoah)
(I know, I know: It's all media, media, media, and files, files, files around here lately. Think of it as a special thematic issue, like when the NYT Mag is all about movies one weekend. Ours is just two weeks long.)
Computer files: a total aberration. I totally agree!
Photography and Citizenship
Really love this argument, which seems to be that photography helps establish the idea of "lots of other people in your society" which, in turn, helps you understand your own role as a citizen. So that raises the question: How did that work before photography? How has our conception of "everybody else in my country" changed?
This image, linked to from the first post, is also terrific.
And it all makes me think of Nick Calcott's writing about photography at On Shadow, which deserves more time and response -- to come!
Conservation Of Outrage
When trying to explain one’s past actions, hindsight is always 20/400. With that caveat, I will say that the emotional pleasure of using the #amazonfail hashtag was intoxicating. There is no civil rights struggle in the US that matters more to me than the extension of equal rights without regard for sexual orientation. Here was a chance to strike a public blow for that cause, and I didn’t even have to write a check or get up from my chair to do it! I went so far as to publicly suggest a link between the Amazon de-listing and the anti-gay backlash following the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa and Vermont. My friend Nelson Minar called bullshit on my completely worthless speculation, which was the beginning of my realizing how much I’d been seduced by righteousness, and how stupid it had made me.
Eye on the Bailout
ProPublica's Eye on the Bailout. Upon first glance appears pretty cool. In particular, I love the minimalist graph at the very top of the page. It's actually a little bit beautiful.
I do wish it had a page like this, though.
April 11, 2009
Angela at AdRants blogged the heck out of my session at ad:Tech Paris on Monday -- complete with video!
My part of the session was basically my mini-manifesto for the future of advertising, disguised as a look back from ad:Tech 2019. (I don't know how to tell a story any other way, apparently.) Angela's video snippets are a chance to see Prezi in action, if you haven't yet. And watch the first one around 1:10 for a sneak peek of Apple's breakthrough product in 2011.
Unfortunately, no blog posts have yet been produced chronicling the baguette-eating and boulevard-wandering that has followed.
April 10, 2009
Thousand-Dollar Steampunk Idea
Teletwitter (or "Twittergraph"): A multiplatform twitter client that pounds out received tweets like an oldtimey telegraph/teletype machine. Morse code optional. Also sheds punctuation formats in telegram style & replaces period with STOP
April 9, 2009
Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings is so perceptive, it transcends any artifact of professional training and reveals a purity of attention to and sympathy with the human universe. Consider her long post on abusive relationships:
So imagine yourself, in love with someone, on your honeymoon or pregnant, when suddenly this guy just goes ballistic, often for very little reason, and hits you. For a lot of women, this is profoundly shocking and disorienting. There are things that are comprehensible parts of the world, even if they're rare, like having your car stolen; and then there are things that are unexpected in a completely different sense, like having your car turn into an elephant before your eyes: things that make you wonder whether you're completely crazy. Being beaten up by someone who apparently loves you is one of those things.
What this means is that precisely when a woman needs as much confidence in her own judgment as she can muster, the rug is completely pulled out from under her. And it's not just that she questions her judgment because she got involved with this guy in the first place; she questions her judgment because something so completely alien to the world she thinks she knows has just happened.
April 7, 2009
My favorite new adjective is employed in the following sentence:
Except the author goes on to say it's cold, which doesn't seem right. Dagoba was a jungle planet, right? I think we need to take this one head-on. Dagobavian is for steamy, sinister summer nights. Use it.
MSU student Megan Gebhart writes up a bit more of my talk from a couple weeks ago -- this part about prototyping, iterative development, and the imperative to fail fast.
Megan did a great job drawing out the main points (and made some explanatory graphics to go along with them); overall, I'm think this is probably an improvement on the original! And I like this analogy, which is all hers:
It’s like painting a small section of your wall before you decide to paint the whole house. Instead of sitting around hoping you’re making the right choice, try it out!
And, credit where it's due: I was basically channeling the d.school.
April 6, 2009
Site-Specific Short Stories
Over at BLDGBLOG, Nicola Twilley writes about a set of short stories just commissioned for the Royal Parks in London. How completely cool: Imagine reading a short story set in a park while walking through it. If I was writing one I'd do the scenes such that you could actually walk the story as you read it -- my characters and your feet keeping pace. They're in the Botanical Gardens. You're in the Botanical Gardens. Walk faster! Read slower!
Better yet if this kind of work isn't commissioned, of course; ideally, you want your site-specific fiction to be organic, to exist entirely because of the irresistible pull of a place on some writerly mind.
But, I'll take work-for-hire in a pinch.
Bet on Cities
Tentative thesis: Cities, not countries, are the true unit of human civilization. Two data points:
- The book Barbarians to Angels, which I tore through whilst SFO-JFK-CDG. The author, Peter Wells, tries to reframe the Dark Ages as not, well, the Dark Ages, but rather as just another period of growth and development. The important bit: Almost all of the important towns of Roman Europe, all the way up into Britain and Scandinavia, just kept on growing during the Dark Ages. There was no great ruin, no abandonment. Just the opposite: There was continuity.
- And then cross-ref with the percolating potential of this post over at O'Reilly about participatory planning in cities.
Oh yeah, and maybe also:
(Got the book recommendation from @bldgblog, and I pass it along to you.)
I know I promised baguettes, and this is a particularly dorky thing to be blogging from your Paris hotel room, but I think this sort of stuff is important.
Another little data point from Jakob Nielsen about the way people read online: They generally only process the first two words of items in lists. Those could be products, they could be news articles, they could be philosophical arguments, whatever.
Especially if you work professionally on the web -- vs. blogging intermittently -- it's really important to understand just how strange our brains and eyes become when we open up a browser. We turn into these crazed, ravenous info-squirrels leaping desperately from branch to branch.
This is of course not to say that all web writing needs to be
- bulleted lists
- with bold words
but rather, just remember: It's not like a book. It's not like a magazine. In fact, it's barely even like reading. It's more like wayfinding in a foreign city -- something I, after today, know a little about -- and you need to design things accordingly.
I can't believe I just wrote this in Paris. I gotta go.
April 5, 2009
Off to Paris
OK, I'm off to Paris in a few hours. Expect light posting from me this week. And expect those posts to mainly be baguette reviews.
If you live in Paris, or know somebody cool who does -- drop me a line! Comment here, or email robin at snarkmarket dot com.
April 4, 2009
Method to Madness
I love the sound of this, and plan to try it:
I remove my glasses, pull a stocking cap down over my eyes, and type the first draft single-spaced on the yellow paper in the actual and metaphorical darkness behind my closed eyes, trying to avoid being distracted by syntax or diction or punctuation or grammar or spelling or word choice or anything else that would block the immediate delivery of the story.
The author uses a typewriter, but this intentional blinding seems even more appealing in the context of a laptop. These things are wonderful, terrible distraction machines, and while you can always subvert technology with more technology, I think a stocking cap over the eyes sounds just about right.
Something about the Tokyo! trailer seemed pretty Robin-esque to me:
So, Sloan, how's my Ro-dar? Planning to see this? Seen it already?
April 3, 2009
"He's got good morals," conceded a graffiti artist called Monkey, while helping his friend scale a traffic light and drape a banner: it depicted a grim reaper clutching fistfuls of banknotes.
Prezi Passes the Test
Oh man, you should see my Gmail inbox. It's fully 50% emails to myself with drafts of Snarkmarket posts. There's an avalanche coming. But not yet.
I did, however, want to give a shout out to Prezi. I did my first public prezi-ntation on Wednesday at Web 2.0 Expo. It was projected on a couple of mega-screens (about like this) and wow, it looked great. Really slick and entirely arresting.
The app is open to the public starting next week, and I can't recommend it more highly.
Credit where due: It has been pointed out to me that there's a zoom-y thing in PowerPoint these days. I still prefer Prezi, though, if only because it's so gleefully non-rectilinear. Rotating, twisting, flipping upside down: These things are hard to avoid once you get going with a prezi. I like that.
Untitled, by Mira Schendel; from a new MOMA retrospective of Schendel and LeĂłn Ferrari.
April 2, 2009
The Web Today
Mary Meeker's Web 2.0 presentations are, almost by definition, the ultimate expression of the reigning conventional wisdom about the web. But wow: What an expression. Dense and data-rich: Here's the latest one.
March 31, 2009
The Age of Ajax
Love this five-year remembrance of the birth of Gmail -- still my favorite thing to use on the web, ever.
March 30, 2009
So Much News With No Paper To Report It
Auugghh. Gavin at Wordwright links to more bittersweet news about my (and Robin's) hometown:
Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit.
All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.
Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.
We're all going to have to get used to using "news about Detroit" rather than "news from Detroit" more often.
Omission Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
There are a lot of things to recommend Amazon's list of the 100 best indie rock albums ever, but the absence of any albums by The Smiths, Dinosaur Jr., or The Flaming Lips is not one of them.
Look At Your Fish
Love this photo. I keep looking at it and thinking it's a fish. Then I convince myself it's not. But then I glance again and think, "Wait, is that a fish?"
Tim Harford at the Financial Times finds le mot juste -- not grade inflation, but grade distortion:
Grade distortion is a serious affair. Students and their teachers are forced to switch to grey market transactions denominated in alternative currencies: the letter of recommendation, for example. Like most alternative currencies, these are a hassle.
Grade distortions, like price distortions, destroy information and oblige people to look in strange places for some signal amid the noise. Students are judged not on their strongest subjects – A grade, of course – but on whether they also picked up A grades in their weakest. When excellence cannot be displayed, plaudits go instead to those who deliver pat answers without stumbling – politicians in training, presumably.
Tekkonkinkreet / Plaid
Pretty obsessed with both this title sequence -- apparently it's just a sliver of the whole thing, so I'm definitely going to track down the movie -- and the accompanying Plaid track (near the end of the post).
March 29, 2009
From East Lansing to Silicon Valley
I was back in East Lansing last week, first talking to journalism students and then giving a speech to the kids who won the same scholarship I had back in the day.
Lots to say about the experience, but my brain hasn't quite recovered enough to articulate it yet.
But check this out: MSU student Megan Gebhart wrote a blog post about part of one presentation. You're going to click the link and laugh at the post title. Yes, it's in the water out here.
Mo' Betta' Maps
I am absolutely not a GIS nerd, but I like the look of cool cartography, and I like it when people eschew the homogeneity of Google Maps and roll their own, e.g. EveryBlock.
With NERF guns, of course.
March 28, 2009
Now This Sounds Like My Kinda News
Matt, this is awesome:
"What should I know about growth and development in this town?"
After a moment of complicated blinking and throat-clearing (code, I figured, for "Is this dude serious?" "'Fraid so."), they begin to speak. What ensues is brilliant -- an hour-and-a-half stream-of-consciousness firehose of names, infrastructure financing mechanisms, development projects, ballot initiatives, and the like. Picture a cinematization of the game SimCity scripted by David Foster Wallace and David Mamet, and you'll sort of get it. I take furious notes, and leave the office to begin assembling what will become more than 800 pages of dossiers on what I just heard.
Change Comes To Manhattan (Brooklyn, Too)
Rents in New York are falling, and credit and other requirements are becoming less strict, even for desirable neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Times even uses the word "bubble" to describe the old world order, which suggests that it's not just the economic downturn but a realistic reevaluation of inflated prices. We've noticed something similar in Philadelphia; people are offering more for less. We might even be able to live somewhere where cabs come, and good restaurants will deliver! Yay.
The story about NYC also includes what I'm pegging as a very artful non-description of a Manhattan brothel: "an acupuncture parlor down the hall that stayed open very, very late and served a male clientele."
March 27, 2009
You Can't Trust A Man What's Made Of Gas
"The Craziest Space Racists Of All Time" at io9.com offers a decent overview of allegories of race and racism in science fiction -- although apparently racism magically enters sci fi only when it's conscious, explicit, and denounced -- but its real value is its citation of the great Mr Show sketch "Racist in the Year 3000":
A Respectable Format
Alison Bechdel's review of a new memoir in comic format. (Click the image to get the big version.) Superawesomewonderful.
Guest of Cindy Sherman
I love Cindy Sherman, so I'm fascinated by this film; my wife thinks the whole thing is creepy. What do you think?
March 26, 2009
Death Is Elastic
All you need are signficant differentials in the estate tax.
The World Has A New Hegemon
Guess who it is! (And who it isn't, anymore. Maybe.)
English Has A New Preposition
Guess what it is!
Paul Krugman Channels Woody Allen
Blogging for the NYT is a little like writing/directing your own movie:
Via Mark Thoma, Anatole Kaletsky writes:
Smith, Ricardo and Keynes produced no mathematical models.
Now, I have
Marshall McLuhanJohn Maynard Keynes right here. Let’s ask him:
Let Z be the aggregate supply price of the output from employing N men, the relationship between Z and N being written Z = φ(N), which can be called the aggregate supply function. Similarly, let D be the proceeds which entrepreneurs expect to receive from the employment of N men, the relationship between D and N being written D = f(N), which can be called the aggregate demand function...
March 24, 2009
Brushing the Cat the Wrong Direction
Anyway, point being, for me, grammar is the opposite of mundane. It's filaments, ligatures, bundles that need to be cherished and played with. Fucking up grammar just seems to me like brushing a cat the wrong direction: is anybody happy then?
P.S. His music is great.
Wounded, They Plan To Prevail
Souleymane Sy Savané [Solo] is from the Ivory Coast. Red West [William] is from Memphis. We believe it. They fit into their roles like hands into gloves. You look at Red West and think, this man has been waiting all his life to play this role. He is 72, stands 6'2." You may have heard the name. He was a member of Elvis Presley's Memphis Mafia, a friend, driver and bodyguard starting in 1955, who appeared in bit parts in 16 Elvis movies. Since then he has worked for such directors as Robert Altman and Oliver Stone.
"I wanted a real Southerner," Bahrani told me after the film's premiere at Toronto 2008. "I wanted the accent, I wanted the mentality of the South. Red sent a video of himself doing a reading of the first scene. I think I watched it for three seconds; I hit pause and said, this is the guy that I wrote about. This is the guy. I called him; I said, 'Red, can you not point when you do the reading?' And I gave him one other direction, just to see, would he hear what I said and would he do it? He did it, he taped it, he sent it back; he had listened to everything I said. I brought the guy in and, I mean, there was just no doubt about it. He was the man."
Bahrani only asked him once about Elvis. "He told a great story. I think it was Elvis' cousin that was bringing drugs to him in the end, and Red didn't like it, which was one of the big conflicts of their falling-out. He said, the guy brought drugs, and he broke his foot and said, 'I'll work my way from your foot up to your face.'
The other thing you should know about Red West is that he was in Road House, playing a character named Red Webster. That is so bad ass.
The Uses of Silence
This is something you always hear at Poynter, and if you've ever had the experience of transcribing one of your own interviews, you know the number one thing you're thinking is: "God, why won't I just shut up? Why am I talking so much?"
It actually takes a lot of self-consciousness and restraint to stay quiet, to draw out silences -- but as journalists (and apparently negotiators, doctors, and pastors alike) will tell you, that's how you get the good stuff.
Everybody in Paris Dresses Like This, Right?
The Real Industry Collapses
March 23, 2009
Designers! Always With the Designing!
Forgot to blog this last week: Suzanna LaGasa at Chronicle Books gets great mail.
Legit Money, Printing Paper
Idris Elba, best known for playing Stringer Bell in seasons 1-3 of The Wire, is now playing Charles Minor, Michael's new boss on The Office. (Which, when you think of it, if David Simon had ever gotten around to telling the story of put-upon postmillennial office workers in America, is essentially the same story.)
Part of Stringer's conceit on The Wire is that he wants to turn drug dealing into a modern business. He wants even his front businesses to run well. But it's still dissonant, to say the least, to watch this Baltimore man-god walk among the paper salesmen in Scranton. Rex and the commenters at Fimoculous cracked me up.
Rex: Yeah, that totally threw me too: Stringer Bell on The Office last night...
kittyholmes: I guess he's finally using all those business classes.
jed: Well, he did run the copy shop.
An Icon Already
The Tata Nano is the cheapest car in the world -- and one of the most striking, too.
I know, I know, a giant swarm of Nanos is the last thing our atmosphere needs... but really, can we deny people a car this slick? Here's a nice slideshow, with factoids, from TIME.
But seriously: The environmental concerns are not insignificant.
King of New York
Nancy Franklin on the not-so-secret geography of NBC's Kings:
Watching the show, you feel a tension as you try to decide whether it's holding a mirror up to the present or whether it's making an argument about where the world may soon be headed. We have already noticed, in the aerial establishing shots of Shiloh, that "Kings" is filmed in Manhattan, and that the city isn't just a film location. It's never stated, but it's clear that Shiloh was New York City, before it was destroyed to the point where even its name disappeared. There are inconsistencies that give you pause: the Time Warner Center is still standing -- in fact, it's the home of the King's court -- but the Empire State Building, I noticed with an actual start, is gone, as is the Chrysler Building. A tall building that resembles the planned Freedom Tower is (thanks to special effects) in midtown. The exterior of the palace is a well-known apartment building, the Apthorp, on the Upper West Side, a block from Zabar's and H & H Bagels. (We don't see those emporiums in the show, but I'm going to assume that they still exist in the world of "Kings"; otherwise, let me tell you, there is real cause for despair in the realm.)
I like the show, but it might be a bad sign for its longevity that even I, who made a point of watching and actually liked the pilot episode, missed the broadcast of episode two last night (and rewatched Lost online with my wife instead). Oops.
March 21, 2009
The Participatory Panopticon Does Discovery
New Liberal Arts Mini-Update
Things are cooking along with the New Liberal Arts: Almost all of the entries are done, locked, and looking wonderful. There are just a few more outstanding -- you know who you are. And the design is shaping up, too!
Plus, I've finalized the plan for the secret physical-object surprise -- the little extra that will make the printed book a real treat.
Fake TV does a White Album mashup, The Beatles vs. Joan Didion.
Mostly an excuse to remind everybody how heart-stopping The Year of Magical Thinking is.
Get Up and Move
Super-interesting article on Russian repatriation in the NYT, mostly because it feels like the setup for a cool novel.
Anyone else get the sense we're about to see a lot more moving around than usual? Global recession, global warming, bursting bubbles, rising powers -- the real map of the world, the map of where people (especially young people) actually live, is about to get re-drawn.
March 18, 2009
There are about a dozen awesome new businesses lurking in the comments to Jason's question: What could really use redesign?
In particular, I liked the suggestions of the lawnmower and the classroom.
My favorite new (to me) word of 2009 so far: deaccession.
Is This What They Call Cosmic Irony?
Insurance companies say they have no choice but to honor contracts, and banks are pleading that their assets will be worth more if you just give them a little time.
For anyone, especially in business, who has tried to make those same arguments to insurers and bankers, to no avail, it's painfully rich.
March 17, 2009
Twelve Angry iPhones
Pretty sure this is what you call a conceptual scoop:
The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.
Last week, a building products company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment against it after a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.
Suuuper interesting. Great work by John Schwartz and the NYT.
The Age of Bespoke Everything
Clive Thompson on Etsy, microbusiness, and personalized aesthetics.
Arise, Father Coughlin
Barry, a true nerd, also programmed the web game called Nation States, which consumed approximately 10% of my 2003.
Architect as Spy
@bldgblog summarizes tales of architects as spies after asking this question. Wow, talk about something that's impossible to link to... better click over to his tweet-stream fast, before he posts too much new stuff! It's super-interesting.
March 16, 2009
Screencasts in Amber
Just a heads up: If the terms "ethnomethodology" and "cognitive anthropology" sound interesting to you (and how could they not??) you should check out Matt Burton's great comment in a recent thread.
In Other News #notsxsw
Matt's been stuck at SXSW, disconnected from the outside world, stuck in an echo chamber of hashtags and open bars. Finally, it came: a cry for help.
Okay, Matt, here are five things you might wanna know about:
- A space shuttle launched for the first time in a long time, and everybody said it was beautiful.
- Lotsa people are arguing about AIG bonuses.
- The chief justice of Pakistan's highest court was reinstated after two years.
- A coup in Madagascar!
- Lots of chaos in Bangladesh lately, but the very latest is amazing: After a recording of the prime minister was posted to YouTube, the government decided to... block all of YouTube.
Augmented Reality Toys
This whole theme is particularly poetic because it plays on what's already magic about kids and toys: There is so much happening that an observer can't see. In a very real sense, toys are already surrounded by layers of augmented reality. But the technology that powers it isn't fancy goggles; it's just imagination.
I remember playing with Transformers and other assorted robots as a kid and being impatient for the "toy fugue state" to kick in. Like reading a book, you know? There's a big difference between the moment after you've just opened a book -- just-reading-each-word-in-order -- and the cruising speed that comes later, when the pages have melted away and something totally different is happening with your eyes and your brain.
The same thing exactly would happen to me as I "got in the groove" of playing with toys. It was sorta like flow for kids! Does this ring a bell with anybody else? Any similar experiences?
Jakob Nielsen leaps into action and lays out some tips for Kindle content.
I've been enjoying mine more and more, by the way, but it's interesting to compare it to the iPhone. The iPhone's magic is that it's so flexible, and so good at so many things; the Kindle's magic is that it's so good at one thing (readin' books!) but, honestly, pretty terrible at everything else. I gave up on my Kindle-ized New Yorker subscription, for instance; I found it totally unreadable.
March 15, 2009
The Ghosts in the Machine
After taking a moment to digest some of the insights from the two awesome panels this morning, this thought is still dancing in my head a bit. At one point, John Mark Josling said (in paraphrase), I want to push the idea of deepening the social aspects of software. What if Photoshop had a sandbox that could enable you to watch designers/photogs editing a photo in real-time, so you could replicate their actions later? What if Fireworks allowed you to view "ghosts" of other editors creating projects?
I'm fascinated by that notion, especially as apps like Photoshop take their place in the cloud. What if you could "follow" Quentin Shih on Photoshop Express, getting notified whenever he was editing an image, and watch his virtual ghost create art in real-time on your screen? Or watch the ghost of Kutiman splicing and editing hundreds of YouTube clips?
This gets back to Robin's notion of the emerging "public artist." It also ties in with my argument about the responsibility of journalists to encode into their work information about how to replicate that work.
The New Haussmann
The challenge however is not to reshape Paris, but rather to extend its inherent beauty to its outskirts, les banlieues -- a web of small villages, some terribly grand and chic (Neuilly, Versailles, Saint Mandé, Vincennes, Saint Germain-en-Laye), others modest and provincial-looking (Montreuil, Pantin, Malakoff, Montrouge, Saint Gervais) and others still, socially ravaged and architecturally dehumanised (La Courneuve, Clichy-sous-bois). And also to link them. But how do you bring together so many different styles and the city's "enormous disparity", as Richard Rogers calls it, into one Grand Paris -- especially when the city is so clearly defined geographically by its gates, shadows of former fortifications, and now le périphérique, the circular road encasing Paris? The simple answer is: by being bold. But also by understanding the fabric of French society and its psyche...
As a Parisian born and bred, I thought the most convincing presentation came from Parisian architect and sometime presidential candidate Roland Castro. He seems the only one to really understand the Parisian mentality, the importance of architecture and politics, grandeur and charm, poetry and citizenship. He not only suggests moving the Elysée Palace to the tough north-eastern suburbs, but also proposes to create new cultural landmarks and governmental buildings, together with a New York-style Central Park on the grim housing project of La Courneuve. The idea is to inject grandeur (as conveyed by the cultural and official institutions) and if possible, beauty, to Paris's many environs.
March 14, 2009
Crackle, Meet Sizzle
"Ah, yeah. Nothing like the sizzle of an MP3."
"What's an MP3, dad?"
"You kids and your music clouds..."
This Is Our Media Revolution. Who Will Be Our Manutius? What Our Octavo?
During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change -- take a book and shrink it -- was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word, as books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, expanding the market for all publishers, which heightened the value of literacy still further..
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn't apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can't predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won't break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren't in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie
Also see Shirky ventriloquize our own Matt Thompson: "Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead."
March 12, 2009
If I Had Invented Music
If Robin Had Invented Language
I just ran across Siftables, another Media Lab concept that doesn't suggest any immediate practical applications, but sent my imagination on a little trip. (The closest it got to a destination was this thought: "Wow, our kids are going to have even cooler toys than we did.") "Siftables" lacks poetry, though. Might I recommend "Robinblox" or "Roblox"?
I think Google should use Hal Varian as a spokesman more often. He is awesome. I'm not just saying that because I was an econ major.
Also: Everybody's talking about Google Voice, but don't miss... Google Noticeboard! No seriously, it's cool. Handy app for the parts of the world without 3G. Or dial-up.
Oh Right... Design
As you know, I am not a fan of the newspaper as a physical format. But I gotta say... Look at those pictures! Look at those fonts! Verdana and Georgia this ain't.
It's arresting how beautiful the pages are -- and how different from each other.
Question to smarter web-heads out there: What's the light at the end of the tunnel for web typography? What technology or standard should I be watching for?
Man, Snarkmarket has been 100% meta-media lately. Will try to change it up a little, I promise.
Beckett in the 1930s
In 1929 Beckett had already spent some time in Italy and in Germany, where he had relatives, and, after a dazzling career as a student of French and Italian at Trinity College Dublin, had just settled into a two-year post as exchange lecteur at the École Normale Supérieure where McGreevy, a much older Irishman, had been his predecessor. McGreevy, still living in Paris, had introduced Beckett to many of his friends, including James Joyce and Richard Aldington. The decade that followed was, for Beckett, restless in the extreme. He returned to Dublin, took up and then renounced an academic job at Trinity; wrote a little book on Proust, a great many poems, some of which were published, some stories, including the masterpiece “Dante and the Lobster”, which appeared under the title More Pricks than Kicks, and two novels, the first of which, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, failed to find a publisher, and the second, Murphy, was published as the decade came to an end; tried to settle in London and underwent pyschoanalysis with Wilfred Bion; experienced the death of his beloved father and of a favourite dog; tried again to settle in Dublin; undertook a six-month trip to Germany to study the art in its great museums; and finally settled in Paris, where he met and started living with Suzanne Descheveaux-Dumesnil. Almost at once, war broke out, and in June 1940, along with a large part of the population of Paris, the pair headed south in the face of the oncoming German army. If, at the start of the decade, Beckett was known in Dublin circles as a highly promising academic with an illustrious career ahead of him, by the end of it he was known to a small coterie of Irish and French intellectuals as a bohemian writer of obscure verse and almost equally obscure fiction, a shy, hard-drinking man of remarkable learning and a savage and witty turn of phrase. Had the war engulfed him as it engulfed so many of his contemporaries it is doubtful if we would now be reading his collected letters.
Whew! "The editors have transcribed more than 15,000 letters, written in the course of sixty years from 1929, when Beckett was twenty-three, until his death in 1989. Of these they plan to give us some 2,500 complete and to quote in the notes from a further 5,000." As Beckett said (in one of his letters, naturally) about reading Proust: "To think that I have to contemplate him at stool for 16 volumes!"
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Typing
Increasingly, Chinese people don't actually have to write (rite? right?) out these characters by hand. More and more, they key them in with mobile phones or at computers. And when they do that, it's just as easy to 'write' a traditional-style, complex, information-dense character as a streamlined new one. (Reason: you key in clues about the character, either its pronunciation or its root form, and then click to choose the one you want.) So -- according to current arguments -- the technology of computers and mobile phones could actually revive an important, quasi-antique style of writing.
Hmm -- Fallows is definitely one-up on me, since he reads Chinese and I don't, but I wonder whether other considerations (e.g. screen size and corresponding size of characters) might still put some pressure towards some kind of simplification of the character form. A lot of that information-density just turns into noise if it has to be packed into a tiny space.
Alternatively, kids (it's always kids, at first) might start using "abbreviations" that minimize the number of keystrokes required to type useful phrases -- maybe by not choosing the precisely "correct" character but an approximation of it (the root or a related pronunciation or whatever), like our "lol," "brb," "btw," etc.
In short, technology rarely has a purely stabilizing effect on tradition -- it might help block a particular chirographic attempt at reform/revolution, but only to displace it in favor of its own matrix. (And yes, I just quoted Spock from The Wrath of Khan.)
March 11, 2009
The Future Is Not Just New Ways to Deliver the Same Ol' Stuff
I always love reading about the NYT's talented R&D team, but I'm also always a little disappointed when all of their projects seem to focus on different ways to present and deliver... newspaper articles.
If a news organization isn't thinking about entirely new formats, like Matt is, it's not thinking hard enough.
And I would really like to ban the word "content." It's too convenient. It allows us to abstract away all of the really important details, and assume that, you know, content is this constant thing, an element like hydrogen or carbon, and our job is just to find cool vessels to put it in. And that's totally not the case. The real action is redesigning what goes in the vessel.
Op-ed columns as prezis, anyone?
The Wrong Twenty-Nine-Year-Old
One of the ironies of this is that Douthat is really just David Brooks with a beard -- not necessarily a bad thing, but he's not very "young" at all. If anything, he's maybe too much the natural candidate; it's weird for the Times to make it out like they're reaching here (while at the same time denying that that's what they're doing).
As for the title of my post -- I'm being a little cheeky, because I'm also twenty-nine, but I don't think the Times should have hired me; if they were looking for a young conservative, I think they should have hired Douthat's Grand New Party co-author Reihan Salam, who is genuinely young and weird in addition to being talented and smart. I'll be happy to be wrong, but I predict that Douthat at the Times will try too hard to be gray and lame; Salam would have been offbeat and fun, like Maureen Dowd is allegedly supposed to be.
March 10, 2009
I Used To Be Able To Get Into These Parties
Steve Marsh might be the second-best writer in the entire Greater Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. And he's written what might be the best introduction to a magazine website party photo gallery this week. It's insider-y and superficial and pompous and awful and I love it. The event being photographed is the third annual Fashion Fight Night, which I'll let Steve describe:
It's fashion photographer vs. fashion photographer, with each ring holding a photographer, a model, and a team of stylists. Each snapper would shoot for three five-minute rounds, and then their results—the photographs—would be projected on a big screen hanging on the wall, and the crowd would hoot and holler, and the judges would cast their votes and come to a decision. At which point the ring announcer, KFAN radio's Dan "The Common Man" Cole, would lift the arm of the winning photographer.
March 9, 2009
Retronovation n. The conscious process of mining the past to produce methods, ideas, or products which seem novel to the modern mind. Some recent examples include Pepsi Throwback's use of real sugar, Pepsi Natural's glass bottle, and General Mills' introduction of old packaging for some of their cereals. In general, the local & natural food and farming thing that's big right now is all about retronovation...time tested methods that have been reintroduced to make food that is closer to what people used to eat. (I'm sure there are non-food examples as well, but I can't think of any.)
No sooner does Jason oh-so-gently throw down the gauntlet than Waxy, who almost certainly meant nothing of the kind, answers the question by linking to an amazing post about a transcript of a story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan about Raiders of the Lost Ark:
(Key: G = George; S = Steven; L = Larry)
G — The thing with this is, we want to make a very believable character. We want him to be extremely good at what he does, as is the Clint Eastwood character or the James Bond character. James Bond and the man with no name were very good at what they did. They were very, fast with a gun. they were very slick, they were very professional. They were Supermen.
S — Like Mifune.
G — Yes, like Mifune. He's a real professional. He's really good. And that is the key to the whole thing. That's something you don't see that much anymore.
Mining 1930s throwaway serials and 60s genre films to create the blueprint for 1980s blockbusters = retronovation, definitely.
But while we're on the subject, let me say a little about the word itself. I write a lot of things super-fast. But I toiled over this word. "Retrovation"? I asked. "Retrinnovation"? It was Mayostard/Mustardayonnaise all over again. "Retronovation" is the clear winner, not only because it sounds better, but because it's etymologically correct: retro + nova => "backwards new." (Or, "return to begin.") Also, hats off to Jason for omitting the hyphen (i.e. "retro-novation"). Fie on the hyphen! The hyphen is only there to draw attention. In fact, I've retronovatively changed the word in my original post to scrap the hyphen I put there. Vive retronovation! Old is the new now!
Now THAT'S Metadata
I want an iTunes list view that looks like this.
Super-interesting Facebook usage data from Cameron Marlowe. I find it reassuring that even FB users with hundreds and hundreds of connections only maintain reciprocal communications with around a dozen of them. (Via Waxy.)
Hacking Your Own Comfort Level into the System
Oh man, I am super-proud of myself. Yesterday I hacked up a Ruby script that loads my Twitter feed and deletes any tweets more than a week old that I haven't marked as favorites. It's set to run every few hours.
For me, this is perfect: Twitter is now totally ephemeral, a stream of real-time notes that disappear after their utility is spent, instead of piling up like so many 140-character skeletons in the cyber-closet.
It's more like a live conversation than an email exchange, actually! Just words floating up into the night air...
Am I the only one who feels this way? Every time I looked at my tweet tally -- 300, 400, 500 -- I'd think: "Ugh. What is all that stuff back there?"
Deliberately Unsustainable Business Models
Nina Simon on the need to sometimes burn bright:
I once asked Eric Siegel, the Director of the New York Hall of Science, why museums are rarely innovative shining stars on the cutting edge of culture. He commented that as non-profits, museums are built to survive, not to succeed. Unlike startups and rock stars, museums aren't structured to shoot for the moon and burn up trying. They're made to plod along. Maybe it's time to change that.
If you're not reading Nina's Museum 2.0 blog... you should be!
March 8, 2009
Capitalism and the Clock
Oh, this is just too good. Neil Postman talks about the invention of the clock:
But what the monks did not realize is that the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And so, by the middle of the 14th century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. The mechanical clock made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours, and a standardized product. Without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible.
I mean, on the most basic level, imagine a world without clocks. Talk about the fish not being able to see the water anymore. Wow.
It's from a speech Postman gave way back in 1990. And the clock thing is really just an aside; the real subject is computers, information, means and ends, and almost every paragraph is blockquote-worthy.
But I'll pick this one:
Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: "All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end." Here is what Goethe told us: "One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it is possible, speak a few reasonable words." And here is what Socrates told us: "The unexamined life is not worth living." And here is what the prophet Micah told us: "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?" And I can tell you -- if I had the time (although you all know it well enough) -- what Confucius, Isaiah, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Spinoza and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.
Yeah. The future needs to be more than ease.
The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency
Detroit's glimmer of hope... or its last gasp?
In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century's industrial decline. The good news is that, almost magically, dreamers are already showing up. Mitch and Gina have already been approached by some Germans who want to build a giant two-story-tall beehive. Mitch thinks he knows just the spot for it.
Actually, the real glimmer of hope is the "large, stable Bangladeshi community" mentioned in the op-ed. People! Detroit needs people!
North by Northwest, Then West Some More
New York to San Francisco in one week on an Amtrak sleeper car. My wife forwarded me this email with one sentence: "This is my dream trip."
March 6, 2009
The Future of Video
March 5, 2009
Augmented Reality Advertising
The Dow Knows All
Cologne, Drezden, Grozny
Some time yesterday afternoon, the six-story Cologne Archives, housing documents dating as far back as the tenth century, as well as the private papers of writers such as Karl Marx, Hegel, and Heinrich Böll, and also all of the minutes taken at Cologne town council meetings since 1376, collapsed as if hit by a missile, only there was no missile, but rather, some sort of structural flaw that caused the building to start cracking and tumbling down. Most visitors, plus some construction workers on the roof, were able to get out in time, although two or three persons may be buried underneath the rubble. Ironically, the Archives contained many documents that had been recuperated from library buildings destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, and a small nuclear bomb-proof room that had been constructed in the basement to house the most rare materials was, at the time of the building's collapse, only being used to store cleaning materials.
Wow the Future Wow Wow
Get Off the Bus
There are few things more useful than a clear, candid case study -- especially in domains full of talk and theorizing. Case (study) in point: Amanda Michel's CJR post-mortem on the Huffington Post's Off the Bus citizen journalism project, which she led.
Here's a taste:
OTB was the fourth organization I had launched, and I had become a working existentialist: you are what you do. Rather than write manifestos or abstract guidelines, I focused our membership on immediate goals and challenges. Our projects built a culture based on journalistic standards that drew heavily, but not exclusively, from so-called Old Media. We sent back pieces for rewrites and subjected our contributors to different degrees of editing. Deadlines and assignments weren't just practical necessities; they were our best marketing tools. [..]
Stories, not technology, were our best organizing tools.
What I love about this piece is that it's fully "operationalized" -- it's almost a guidebook to running an operation like this. Nicely done.
Oh yeah, and: Amanda is joining ProPublica!
March 4, 2009
Too Old to Teach
The moral of Paul Tough's stellar Whatever It Takes might be that sixth grade is far too late to start instilling sound learning habits in a student who hasn't had a good educational foundation. Geoffrey Canada's quixotic quest to bring left-behind sixth-graders up to their grade level in reading and math is somewhat heartbreaking. He ends the book still hoping that it's possible to accomplish, but I finished it much less optimistic.
But this Phawker series is a hellish look at what happens after we've stopped trying.
Time and Materials
For my money, this is 10X cooler than Girl Talk: Kutiman makes amazing original songs out of YouTube music clips. I've seen videos sorta like these before, but none this accomplished.
I think my favorite is track six. Wow.
Also, he explains the process.
Inside Bear McCreary's Brain
I'm gonna return to this theme of the new creativity, and the ways we're getting to see inside the creative process these days.
Bear McCreary, who writes the music for Battlestar Galactica, has an epic, three-part series of posts up about the latest episode. The plot hinged on music and music-making:
I admit I wrote these entries for myself, because this episode truly changed my life and my perspective on what music can accomplish in film and television.
It's a lot to read, and probably not, er, penetrable if you're not a Battlestar Galactica fan, but there are some really interesting, nuanced observations to be had if you are. It's like a DVD commentary super-expanded into nine extra dimensions of space and time. Here's part one; part three was my favorite. Via @flyjetalone.
While we're at it: You always wondered what the Sesame Street writing process was like, didn't you?
March 3, 2009
Note to Self
Do you, like me, send a lot of email to yourself? Links, notes, ideas, to-dos?
If no: Disregard.
If yes: So, in Gmail, you accomplish this by typing "me" into the to: field. And I just figured something out. If you open your Gmail contacts and change the "Name" field for your own address to something quick and unique, you accomplish two things: One, eliminate the risk of sending personal to-dos to friends whose names begin with the letters M-E -- which I have done. (I send a lot of these. And I send them very quickly.) Two, make it quicker to type. For instance, my new alias for my own address is "QQ" -- totally unique, and a lightning-fast double key-tap! Especially on the iPhone.
P.S. Please call me QQ from now on.
New Liberal Arts on Michigan Public Radio
Hey, awesome! Jennifer Guerra at Michigan Radio did a piece on the new liberal arts, keyed to our book project, and it aired this morning. It features me, Gavin, and Emily Zinneman, who teaches creative writing at University of Michigan:
"So much of creative writing -- especially stories -- is about character," explains Zinnemann. "And that's something that the students have a hard time understanding sometimes. But Facebook is a really familiar language that all the students speak. I feel like students are familiar in reading character and picking up on real subtle clues the way that grad students in English might read Shakespeare. They read Facebook in the same sort of way."
I love it!
Anyway, a big thank you to Jennifer. And do check out her story.
And! Another NLA book update coming later this week.
College and University Roundup
A fistful of education-related tabs that have been sitting in my RSS reader, waiting for me to say something insightful about them:
- The Library Web Site of the Future (Inside Higher Ed): "Several years ago academic institutions shifted control of their Web sites from technology wizards to marketing gurus. At the time there was backlash. The change in outlook was perceived as a corporate sellout, a philosophical transformation of the university Web site from candid campus snapshot to soulless advertiser of campus wares to those who would buy into the brand... I was one of the resisters. Now I think the marketing people got it right. The first thing librarians must do after ending the pretense that the library Web site succeeds in connecting people to content is understand how and why the institutional homepage has improved and what we can learn from it. Doing so will allow academic libraries to discover answers to that first question; how to create user community awareness about the electronic resources in which the institution heavily invests." My thoughts: Isn't it weird to have a portal at all? Why not something like Firefox's Ubiquity, that just lets you type "pubmed liver cancer" to connect directly to the resource? (Note: part of the genius of Ubiquity is that it shows you what commands are possible! it is potentially more user-friendly than any drilldown portal.)
- To Keep Students, Colleges Cut Anything But Aid (New York Times): "The increases highlight the hand-to-mouth existence of many of the nation's smaller and less well-known institutions. With only tiny endowments, they need full enrollment to survive, and they are anxious to prevent top students from going elsewhere. Falling even a few students short of expectations can mean laying off faculty, eliminating courses or shelving planned expansions. 'The last thing colleges and universities are going to cut this year is financial aid,' said Kathy Kurz, an enrollment consultant to colleges. 'Most of them recognize that their discount rates are going to go up, but they'd rather have a discounted person in the seat than no one in the seat.'" My thoughts: It's weird. If students don't enroll, we'll have to lay off faculty. So, in order to pay for an increased aid budget, we must lay off faculty.
- In Tough Times, Humanities Must Justify Their Worth (NYT): "As money tightens, the humanities may increasingly return to being what they were at the beginning of the last century, when only a minuscule portion of the population attended college: namely, the province of the wealthy. That may be unfortunate but inevitable, Mr. Kronman said. The essence of a humanities education -- reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming 'to grips with the question of what living is for' -- may become 'a great luxury that many cannot afford.'" My thoughts: Boooooo. This article, like its retrograde view of what the humanities are about, stinks.
- See Also: Siamese Twins (Wyatt Mason/Harpers): "Fowler's Modern English Usage, in any of its incarnations, is pure pleasure. There's doubtless a medicinal value to its entries, but they entertain so deeply and purely that it all goes down very sweetly. Over the years, I'm sure I've read it more for pleasure than with purpose, less in the hope of resolving a confusion over 'pleonasm' than to discover that 'pleonasm' was something at all. Where the New Oxford American Dictionary defines the term as 'the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning, either as a fault of style or for emphasis,' Fowler's offers a little lesson." My thoughts: I love this.
- Collective Graduate School Action (The Economist): "If you're going to go back to school, now is the time to do it. Not only is the opportunity cost of the time spent extremely low -- wages aren't likely to rise any time soon, and there may not be a job available anyway -- but so to is the opportunity cost of the money invested. What, you'd rather have that tuition sitting in the market right now? Or in a home?" My thoughts: Clearly, it depends on the school and your goals. But not everyone should listen to that siren song. I entered graduate school during the last Big Recession. Now I'm leaving during the next Great Depression. There are no sure-fire ways to ride these out -- and a dissertation can be as much an anchor as a lifeboat.
March 2, 2009
The Future, It Will Be So Easy
It's hard not to be stirred by Microsoft's video vision of the year 2019 -- I mean, listen to that music! -- but, really, it's quite empty. To be fair, it's a vision of the future of productivity, so by definition it's all process, no product. But even so... is our high-tech future really just an asymptotic approach to zero effort? Is it only about making things easier than they already are?
I can't decide if that's utopian or dystopian.
Related: If you live in SF... check it out!
Amateur Antiquaries of the Future
Where are the antiquaries of yesteryear? Do they now collect twentieth century pulp fiction? Classic sci-fi? Modernist design magazines? Is it too expensive to collect earlier works? Are collectors and antiquaries the same thing, anyway?Part of a longer, typically smart post about amateur scholars' access to materials -- particularly those electronic databases for which colleges and universities pay through the nose. Vive Digital Humanism!
Jonathan Hoefler on the beauty of collage: Vaughan Oliver (designer for The Pixies et al.), Shinro Ohtake, Eduardo Recife, Chip Kidd, and more.
Above: Joseph Cornell, Untitled Collage.
Junior Boys Feat. Norman McLaren
Wow, two great tastes that taste great together: Junior Boys and Norman McLaren. It was Andrew Simone's recent post that prompted me to do some Norman McLaren searching. All of his videos are on YouTube, but they're also on the National Film Board of Canada's wonderful site in super-lux quality.
The Suburbs Strike Back
The mutual dependency of city and suburb is both physical and psychological. City dwellers and suburbanites need each other to reinforce their own sense of place and identity despite ample evidence that what we once thought were different places and lifestyles are increasingly intertwined and much less distinct.
The revenge of the suburb on the city wasn't simply the depletion of its urban population or the exodus of its retailers and office workers, but rather the importation of suburbia into the heart of the city: chain stores and restaurants, downtown malls, and even detached housing. If the gift of urban planners to suburbia was the tenets of the New Urbanism, it has been re-gifted, returned to cities not as tips for close-knit communities but as recipes for ever more intensive consumer experiences.
Suburbia has returned to the city just as most suburbs are experiencing many of the things about city life it sought to escape, both positive and negative: congestion, crime, poverty, racial and ethnic diversity, cultural amenities, and retail diversity. At the same time, cities have taken on qualities of the suburbs that are perceived as both good and bad, such as the introduction of big box retailing, urban shopping malls, and reverse suburban migration by empty nesters, who return to the city to enjoy the kind of life they lived before they had kids to raise.
For every downtown Olive Garden there is an Asian-fusion restaurant opening in a strip mall; for every derelict downtown warehouse there is an empty suburban office building waiting to be converted into lofts; the Mall of America is the largest shopping center in the country, but SoHo may be the nation's largest retail neighborhood; and everywhere we have Starbucks.
Blauvelt's exhibit on suburbia, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, is at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis -- in the Target Gallery. Where else?
March 1, 2009
Who Is Things?
Just who is behind Things Magazine? Every time a new scattered yet somehow deeply coherent post shows up, I am assured ten new tabs in my browser window. And yet there are so few words, really -- it's hard to get a sense of context or personality. And I can't find a single name on the site.
For now I'm just going to assume it's an A.I.
February 28, 2009
Why this is sorta cool: Instead of existing only within the context of the commented-upon item, comments get to sort of reach out and pull more people into the conversation, too.
Lots of limitations, obviously. But I like the idea.
In this presentation from Joshua Davis (it's about how bezier curves work, and cool ways of drawing them), most slides are actually little applications -- they're generating imagery on the fly, and it'll look different on your screen than it did on mine. (Oh, and most of them are pretty gorgeous, too; you should check it out even if you're not, uh, into bezier curves.)
Mash that up with Prezi and try not to let your head explode.
February 27, 2009
Kindle User Experience Note #1
A nice moment: I am browsing the Kindle store on my laptop. I load things up -- lots of sample chapters, a few full books -- and the Kindle itself (four inches to the left of my hands) flashes in recognition as the material peels off of Amazon's servers and coasts through the Sprint network into my little e-book. Like literally, the whole screen does this funky inversion -- you know the effect if you have a Kindle, or any E-Ink device -- and then, there it is. Hello "Chasing the Flame." Hello "Time and Materials." Neat!
'So You're the Ben Bernanke of Architecture?'
Is It Time to Get Out of Journalism?
This chat, led by Joe Grimm over at Poynter.org, was actually super-fascinating. No startling revelations; no giant macro-theories. Instead, a real sense of individuals grappling with change and thinking about the future. (Really loving CoverItLive, by the way. Some day Snarkmarket is going to be all live chats and prezis.)
Coraline in 1D
I would like to see a stop-motion movie comprised entirely of origami figures. LIKE THIS ONE.
February 26, 2009
We R From Twitteronia We Connect
I know this is a few days old, but I finally read the Twitterers-meet-Shaq-in-real-life story and I cannot. stop. laughing. It's so weird and sweet.
February 25, 2009
Yet another testament to the infinite remixability of Jane Austen:
First, it was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Seth Grahame-Smith novel due out in May that intersperses Austen's familiar prose with scenes of "bone crunching zombie action," which reportedly already has Hollywood studios vying to acquire its rights. Now comes the news that Elton John's Rocket Pictures intends to produce Pride and Predator, "which veers from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about."
Pride and Predator! Genius! And yes, I know, Northanger Abbey is already sort of a horror story, or a send-up of one. If you've got a better title idea, put it in the comments.
Welcome to Svalbard, Mr. Bond
Great TIME photo essay on the Svalbard seed vault. Somebody film a movie scene at this place ASAP.
Tiny Art Director
February 24, 2009
My New Rock Band
How is it that it's been four whole days and nobody's alerted me to BuzzFeed's Wikipedia Band Name Generator? My band is called Newport Historic District, and our first album is titled, "Cooling Influences of the World." The album cover will be an artful crop of this image.
Both eyebrows raise: They illustrated the story with this image, by Mark Boswell.
I sort of love this. Thanks, Taylor.
Wow. A real gem in 20x200 today:
Question: I wanted to contrast these with some other images of urbanity... I'm thinking of those very Modern, jet-liner-sleek, super-dark, moody images of Gotham... monochrome, no people. From the 20s or 30s, I think. Does this ring a bell with anybody? What am I thinking of?
The Indelible Image of Tragedy
Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller who communicated with the US Airways flight that ditched in the Hudson River, was sure the crash had killed everyone aboard the plane.
"Even when I learned the truth, I could not escape the image of tragedy in my mind," he said. "Every time I saw the survivors on television, I imagined grieving widows. It's taken me over a month for me to be able see that I did a good job. I was flexible and responsible and I listened to what the pilots said and I made sure I gave him the tools he needed. I was calm and in control."
February 23, 2009
The Free Arts and the Servile Arts
This new post from Nick Carr resists blockquoting in the most wonderful way. Just go read it. It's a mash-up!
February 22, 2009
Slytherin, FOR SURE
Next to his computer monitor is a smaller screen that looks like a handheld G.P.S. device and tells Emanuel where the President and senior White House officials are at all times.
Rahm Emanuel has a Marauder's Map??
February 21, 2009
The Era of Doinking
How should one think about the diabolical genie that is the iPhone? Magic Molly enumerates your options, all of which are simultaneously correct.
February 20, 2009
In Soviet Russia, Light Switches You
Turns out the solutions to a lot of problems boil down to providing better feedback loops.
With that in mind, two Stanford students reinvented the light switch.
John Gruber on reducing friction between thought and expression:
Friction is a problem for software in general, not just programming languages specifically. There’s the stuff you want to do, and there’s the stuff you have to do before you can do what you want to do. People have a natural tendency to skip the have to do stuff to get right to the want to do stuff if they can get away with it. Friction is resistance. Hence untitled document windows containing hours of unsaved work — there’s an idea in your head that you want to express or explore, and the path of least resistance is to hit Command-N and just start working.
I would say that friction in this sense is a problem for a Lot Of Things in general, not just software specifically. But Gruber's take on "Untitled Document Syndrome" is a really good illustration:
Saving a document for the first time is a minor chore, but it’s a chore nonetheless. The avoidance of such a minor chore is not rational; it is neither particularly complicated nor time consuming to hit Command-S and deal with the Save dialog. But we humans are not perfectly rational. We don’t always floss our teeth. We’ll pick the burger and fries instead of the salad. We’ll have one more beer. And sometimes we just don’t feel like dealing with the Save dialog box yet so we’ll put it off.
Gruber's post is part of an ongoing "everything buckets" debate in the Mac blogosphere. It kinda boils down to a debate about writing versus reading, users versus programmers, what's smart for software vs. what's smart for hardware. In short, the eternal dillemas.
The Futurist Manifesto
The Futurist Manifesto was published 100 years ago today.
That's 100 years of being angry that these jerks claimed and corrupted the word "futurist."
The Egg and the Wall
Haruki Murakami in Israel:
If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.
In the same speech, he says:
There are only a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.
The pure language of it!
Hey, Let's Not Be...
(Looking at you, Chris Hedges.)
February 19, 2009
We're Those Two Guys
So many gems in Roger Ebert's remembrance of his relationship with Gene Siskel. Here's one:
He got his second job, as the movie critic of the CBS Chicago news, because the newscast was bring reformatted to resemble a newspaper city room. Van Gordon Sauter, the executive producer, recruited Gene on the theory, "Don't hire someone because they look good on TV; hire them because they cover a beat and are the masters of it." Gene speculated that was the reason for the success of our show: We didn't look great on TV, but we sounded as if we might know what we were talking about.
The rest you should find for yourself.
February 18, 2009
Foreign Policy Ascendant
You guys know Foreign Policy has been one of my favorite magazines for a while. Well, I think things are only gonna get better for this magazine as, uh, the world gets worse.
See: The Axis of Upheaval. (+10 snarkpoints to the FP editor who came up with that title. It's sharp.)
If you haven't scoped out their new site, you gotta do it. Really smart all-around, and helpful to the cause of heterogeneity in my RSS reader: If anything, FP is a bit of a conservative voice.
The super-smart Matt Jones, writing about location-based services: "I still maintain, perhaps foolishly - that sharing hereish/soonish/thereish/thenish is more interesting than exactly-here/exactly-now."
Jones works on Dopplr. I wish the frequency of my globe-trots was such that I could actually make use of this site, because it seems so clever and well-crafted. But, you don't have to use it to appreciate Dopplr's mission, as articulated by Jones: "optimising the future via the coincidences [it coordinates]."
What a great thing for a product to aspire to. Mostly because it sounds kinda like something that a magic talisman in Harry Potter might do.
Ephemerality and Regeneration
Before reading Rex's interview with 4chan's founder, I didn't realize that those boards were so ephemeral:
The lack of retention lends itself to having fresh content. The joke is that 4chan post is a repost of a repost of a repost. There was a guy who was downloading every image from /b/. He calculated that 80 percent of what's posted has been posted before. So it's survival of the fittest. Ideas that are carried over to the next day are worth repeating. The things that are genuinely funny get carried over.
I actually like that a lot. Reminds me of, er, life itself. DNA getting transcribed again and again. Little mutations along the way.
Now, of course, there's great value to the opposite, to durability and accretion. (See, e.g., Matt's vision for news.) But I wonder if we'll get tired of always leaving a digital paper trail, and if ephemerality will sometimes be considered a feature.
For instance -- am I alone in this? -- I wish I could set Twitter to auto-delete tweets older than a week or so.
That's It, I'm Moving to Canada
Seriously?? When asked, 34% of Americans say they want to live in Orlando, making it the fifth most desirable city in the country? Are these people talking about the same Orlando I grew up in and now assiduously avoid? The country's preeminent symbol of suburban suck? In what the New Yorker recently nicknamed "The Ponzi State"?
And my beloved Minneapolis, with its resplendent lakes and parks and great restaurants and arts and culture and evenforPetessake the Mall of America, is one of the five least popular?! That's just messed up.
Clive Thompson, Gay Talese, and Laundry Board
Two reasons to love this post over on Clive's blog:
- Ruminations on writers' tools and processes
- WTF is "laundry board"??
February 17, 2009
Scary Graphs About Japan
Trying to understand how the economic crisis is playing out in places other than the U.S. Here's Japan. Man, those graphs are all going in the wrong direction.
February 16, 2009
Enjoyed Barry Schwartz's latest TED talk. It's not as full of presentational pyrotechnics as some of the TED classics, but the message is solid: He argues for a renewed focus on practical wisdom. (That's phronesis, if you took Martin Benjamin's freshman philosophy course like I did.)
But I mention his talk specifically because I liked his use of the word demoralize. He uses it in both a familiar sense -- one can lose morale -- and an unfamiliar sense -- an activity is drained of morality.
To surround ourselves with clever incentive schemes that bend our selfish desires towards good seems appealing; it's certainly the focus of a lot of public policy and social entrepreneurship lately. But Schwartz says it's ultimately demoralizing and destructive. Rules and regulations never account for all the edge cases, and it's precisely those edge cases that truly test us. To handle those, we need more than algorithms. We need wisdom.
You can talk about professions being demoralized, in both senses of the word. Medicine is a deeply moral profession, but have the incentives (and disincentives) of the medical-industrial complex been chipping away at that foundation?
Banking once had a moral dimension. Is that even detectable anymore? Are there bankers at Citigroup who still see themselves fundamentally as stewards? Or is that species extinct?
Journalism is a hold-out, I think, but one of the worries with all the upheaval lately is that we'll emerge with a news business reconstituted, revitalized, but somehow demoralized. Swap out strands of the American newspaper tradition, swap in strands of web business culture: You might end up more materially successful, but you might also end up quite a bit less wise.
Psst. Hidden gem alert. I'm not even really into food blogs (or food in general) and I love Kitchen Sidecar.
It's All About the Abrahams
Discussions around the consequences of a truly connected planet have been going on for some time in our organisation, and maybe also in yours. Fivedollarcomparison.org is a small step to broaden the discussion and explore how the impact might vary across cultures and contexts by asking a simple question: What can you buy for five dollars?
For five dollars, you can buy a giant bucket of potatoes in Peru, park a bike in Montreal for two hours, or get a pound of licorice in California. On the one hand, this is a vivid representation of costs of living across the world. On the other hand, I'm hungry. (Via Bruno Giussani.)
Diagramming Obama's Sentences
No surprise: They're wonderfully-constructed. "Turn it on its side and it could be a mobile."
Medicine For Melancholy
Pretty Sure This Couldn't Be Any Cooler
We've been tracking the new charter school in NYC built around game design and systems thinking. Now it has a website, and a name: Quest to Learn, the school for digital kids. You gotta see the about page; it's sublime. Talk about new liberal arts.
February 15, 2009
Richard Florida, writing about the economy and home ownership, makes an important point (emphasis mine):
As homeownership rates have risen, our society has become less nimble: in the 1950s and 1960s, Americans were nearly twice as likely to move in a given year as they are today. Last year fewer Americans moved, as a percentage of the population, than in any year since the Census Bureau started tracking address changes, in the late 1940s. This sort of creeping rigidity in the labor market is a bad sign for the economy, particularly in a time when businesses, industries, and regions are rising and falling quickly.
I feel like super-flexible, low-hassle housing in big cities is going to be a growth industry. Why can't I just go and live in New York for six months? I realize that extremely rich people flit around like this all the time. How about something for everybody else? Something like a housing system with buildings in big cities such that it's easy for you to "swap" your studio in San Francisco for a studio in London.
February 14, 2009
Zadie Smith, Barack Obama, and Cary Grant
Oh this is wonderful:
[...] What did Pauline Kael call Cary Grant? "The Man from Dream City." When Bristolian Archibald Leach became suave Cary Grant, the transformation happened in his voice, which he subjected to a strange, indefinable manipulation, resulting in that heavenly sui generis accent, neither west country nor posh, American nor English. It came from nowhere, he came from nowhere. Grant seemed the product of a collective dream, dreamed up by moviegoers in hard times, as it sometimes feels voters have dreamed up Obama in hard times. Both men have a strange reflective quality, typical of the self-created man -- we see in them whatever we want to see. "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant," said Cary Grant. "Even I want to be Cary Grant." It's not hard to imagine Obama having that same thought, backstage at Grant Park, hearing his own name chanted by the hopeful multitude. Everyone wants to be Barack Obama. Even I want to be Barack Obama.
February 13, 2009
A New Face
House Party At The Drop Of A Hat
The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, twenty years later:
Paul's Boutique is a landmark in the art of sampling, a reinvention of a group that looked like it was heading for a gimmicky, early dead-end, and a harbinger of the pop-culture obsessions and referential touchstones that would come to define the ensuing decades' postmodern identity as sure as "The Simpsons" and Quentin Tarantino did. It's an album so packed with lyrical and musical asides, namedrops, and quotations that you could lose an entire day going through its Wikipedia page and looking up all the references; "The Sounds of Science" alone redirects you to the entries for Cheech Wizard, Shea Stadium, condoms, Robotron: 2084, Galileo, and Jesus Christ. That density, sprawl, and information-overload structure was one of the reasons some fans were reluctant to climb on board. But by extending Steinski's rapid-fire sound-bite hip-hop aesthetic over the course of an entire album, the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers more than assured that a generally positive first impression would eventually lead to a listener's dedicated, zealous headlong dive into the record's endlessly-quotable deep end.
With no other album did I spend as much time transcribing and deciphering lyrics, beats, ideas -- staring at the radio, staying up all night.
Looking Back on 2009
One of the new liberal arts is the art of the counterfactual. We cribbed the idea from Niall Ferguson; here's a new one from him:
It was not that Obama's New New Deal -- announced after the Labor Day purge of the Clintonites -- produced an economic miracle. Nobody had expected it to do so. It was more that the federal takeover of the big banks and the conversion of all private mortgage debt into new 50-year Obamabonds signalled an impressive boldness on the part of the new president.
The same was true of Obama's decision to fly to Tehran in June -- a decision that did more than anything else to sour relations with Hillary Clinton, whose supporters never quite recovered from the sight of the former presidential candidate shrouded in a veil.
February 12, 2009
We can agree to disagree about Sasha Frere-Jones. David Remnick and I like him, and I'm increasingly convinced we're alone in that regard. But few critics derive as much pleasure from discussing pop trifles, or do it with as much pizzazz. Clearly I was not about to let his paean to Beyonce go unremarked. Best observation: "'Single Ladies' is an infectious, crackling song and would be without fault if it weren't the bearer of such dull advice. The wild R&B vampire Sasha is advocating marriage? What's next, a sultry, R-rated defense of low sodium soy sauce?"
Low-sodium soy sauce! Swish!
Google buys a defunct paper mill, which it's turning into a data center. I can't help but think of the missed opportunities:
- Google Blank: DIY Search and Document Creation.
- Okay, that was too cute. How about Google Paper Services for Enterprise? Google sells you its Apps suite, tech support, AND the paper you print your documents on. And everything you photocopy ends up in a Google search engine.
- Google File: (im)personal archive services.
- Google is going to print its own money.
- New team-building exercise: all Google employees to collaborate on a five-act play with at least 500 speaking parts.
- Google Airplanes.
- Google Trading Cards: collect all your top searches!
- Google Direct Mail: We store your documents, email, and contacts, AND will send your letters for you!
So many possibilities.
February 11, 2009
Sita Sings the Blues
A synopsis might help:
Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana. Set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as "The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told."
Comenius Would Have Approved
Dan Visel at if:book, in a post titled "Wikipedia Before Wikipedia," looks at the Trictionary, a grass-roots trilingual dictionary (English, Spanish, and Chinese) created between 1978 and 1981 by high school students on New York's Lower East Side.
Here's some text (from Tom MacArthur's 1986 book Worlds of Reference):
The compilation was done, as The New Yorker reports (10 May 1982) "by the spare-time energy of some 150 young people from the neighborhood," aged between 10 and 15, two afternoons a week over three years. New York is the multilingual city par excellence, in which, as the report points out, "some of its citizens live in a kind of linguistic isolation, islanded in their languages". The Trictionary was an effort to do something about that kind of isolation and separateness.
February 10, 2009
This happened a little while ago, but if you're interested in the discussion of paper, books, durability, the Kindle, new kinds of media, etc. that we've been having here, you should read this write-up of PaperCamp, which was somehow related to BookCamp.
You gotta see Spot Nocturnal Animals: "In daylight, the cover is blank and inside the viewer can only see animals' footprints. When lit after dark, the title and explanations of each animal will come into view as they are printed with glow-in-the-dark ink.
PaperCamp US, please. Maybe we should help organize it? (After we finish this book, of course.)
Update: Oops, just missed it. But... Albany?
Everything I Know About Life I Learned from My Search Engine
An intriguing aside from a long Silicon Alley Insider article:
I do wonder whether Twitter's success is partially based on Google teaching us how to compose search strings? Google has trained us how to search against its index by composing concise, intent-driven statements. Twitter with its 140 character limit picked right up from the Google search string. The question is different (what are you doing? vs. what are you looking for?) but the compression of meaning required by Twitter is I think a behavior that Google helped engender. Maybe Google taught us how to Twitter.
I'm not sure if there's enough evidence to make the claim that Google taught us how to Twitter (did it then also teach us how to text?). But I wonder what else Google might have taught us. Has the nature of our Google queries changed over time? Do we type fewer words? More? How does our use of Google compare to the first generation of search engines?
February 9, 2009
The New Creativity
Have people always talked about creativity this much? I mean the details of it -- craft, process, practical wisdom. My memory says "no," but then, my memory is short.
Everybody's been pointing to Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on the culture of creativity and genius.
Ze Frank has been thinking out loud about creativity and collaborative projects.
Imogen Heap sits in her home studio in vlog after vlog and talks you through her creative process -- insecurities and all. (This is my favorite example because it's not just reflective, it's real-time.)
Argument: It is the responsibility of the artist in the 21st century to speak and write like this. Sure, you can still lock yourself in your studio and indulge in the agony and ecstasy of isolation if you want, but that's sooo 20th century. The new world favors the public artist, the artist brave enough to speak plainly not only about ideas and inspiration, but about fear and hesitation as well.
Classical Mechanics in the Grocery Aisle
Note that this makes no actual sense. Mostly it's just that I like imagining those now-omnipresent Pepsi spheroids as a kind of meteorite debris, the remnants of a brand collision in deep space now gently sprinkling the earth.
February 8, 2009
Does This Count As Slow Food?
I've been rediscovering my slow cooker. While my boyfriend was visiting over the last week, we made bananas foster, chicken and dumplings, and sloppy joes, all in the crockpot. (Let's just say it was not a week of healthy eating.) Given the effortless deliciousness that came out of the crockpot after a few hours of cooking, I started to wonder if anyone had made a blog devoted purely to slow cooker recipes. Did I even need to ask?
I found this one the least revelatory, but the motion is pretty.
But the takeaway? Economists need to get out more.
Radio Lab How-To
I have to admit: I haven't been keeping up with Radio Lab. I am genuinely ashamed of this, because I feel like Radio Lab is probably the best and most inventive media being produced anywhere right now. It's just... the episodes... they're so long!
But I did just listen to this: Radio Lab at the Apple store, explaining how they make the show. Some neat demos and examples of audio before and after "the Radio Lab treatment."
The Radio Lab secret to storytelling is simple: Make it musical.
Yeah, Everybody at the NYT Reads Snarkmarket
Conrad de Aenlle in the NYT expands on something we've been talking about: Digital Archivists, Now in Demand.
(What a wonderful name, by the way. How do you suppose you pronounce "Aenlle"?)
February 7, 2009
Design as Performance
Oh, this is good. There's something in this. Chip Kidd on Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man:
When, in the film, Stark/Downey is creating his Iron Man suit in his lab and figuring things out, it doesn't seem like he's acting. The impression is that in another life this is what Downey the real person would have actually wanted to be and do. It's design as performance.
This from Kidd, the designer who composed his terrific novel, The Cheese Monkeys, in QuarkXPress instead of Word, designing as he wrote. How do the words fall on the page? Where should the typeface change?
Design as performance. That is a chewy nugget of an idea.
The Kid-Saving Business
After gobbling up last week's stellar NYT Mag cover story from David Leonhardt, I Kindled Paul Tough's book about the birth of Harlem's Promise Academy, Whatever It Takes. The book is stellar. Tough's NYT Mag piece from 2006 gives a nice intro, but it ends by recounting the successes of KIPP charter schools. Whatever It Takes is in many ways a chronicle of the academic underworld, the students beyond KIPP's reach. And it's a fascinating primer on how education in America is transforming.
February 6, 2009
The art of the social network self-portrait has been widely-commented-on, but I still think this is pretty great:
But then there's a Heisenbergian observer-affects-the-observed kinda meta-thing going on here, because of course the people who he paints instantly use their new portrait as their profile picture. I think that's the genius of the project.
Profile and portrait above both of Caroline Giegerich, who writes the terrific Daily Marauder blog.
The Inevitability of Electronic Reading
Many of you have probably read John Siracusa's insightful, entertaining, and long anecdotal history of e-books at Ars Technica. Still, with Amazon set to make a big Kindle-related announcement early next week, it seems like a good time to highlight this sample:
In 2003, Apple started selling music for the iPod through its iTunes music store. Apple sold audio books as well, through a partnership with Audible. Perhaps unknowingly, Apple had just positioned itself perfectly for e-book domination.
It was all happening right before our eyes. First the device, already far past the minimum threshold for screen size and legibility, and rapidly gaining market penetration. Then the digital distribution channel, accessed via a desktop application used by every iPod owner. Then the deals with content owners—not just the independent labels or the scraps from the big table, but all the top record labels, and for their most popular content...
The e-book market was Apple's for the taking.
And then a funny thing happened: Apple never took it... The iPod sold in numbers that made the PDA phenomenon look quaint. And still Apple didn't move. No one moved. The entire e-book market was stalled.
These were the dark times for the e-book market, akin to the five years during which Internet Explorer 6 had over 90% market share and received no major updates. Here was this technology that had so much potential but was not making any substantial progress in the market because the players who were motivated to drive it forward had failed or been rendered powerless by larger forces.
February 4, 2009
If This is Flash, Then I Don't Wanna Be Right
February 3, 2009
Stuff That Lasts
This answer from Gary Hustwit really resonates with me:
How has making [the film "Objectified"] changed the way you look at everyday objects?
I really think about what I buy now: (A) Do I really need this? (B) What if this is the last of this object that I ever buy? I don't want to buy chairs I'll be sick of in five to ten years.
I'm trying to get better at finding, and buying, things that last. Ten years seems to be the magic number. Most things I own right now are more in the, uh, ten-week range.
So far, I'm amazed at the durability of my Cole Haan shoes; I've got a pair that are five years old and going strong. Russell Davies pointed out a new micro-brand that guarantees it jackets and bags for 10 years, which is pretty cool. I have a feeling my Mission Bicycle is gonna last.
Any recommendations for brands, or specific products, worth investigating? Any good experiences you've had?
Ah, Movable Type
But, there's a lot of good stuff in the new liberal arts comment thread -- so give it a look if you haven't yet, and consider pitching in an idea of your own.
More book details coming later this week.
February 2, 2009
Hey guys, maybe we should investigate some sort of joint-venture opportunity with Riffmarket. Rex just pointed to one of his posts. This is my first exposure, and his voice is terrific: sharp, fluid, fair.
I admit it, I'm really only linking because it's called Riffmarket.
Cut the Crap, Guys
Howard Weaver brings it:
People who wish some billionaire would endow newsrooms so they don't have to change -- you know who you are -- have the musty smell of the mausoleum all about them. They move through twilight, walking stiffly toward a setting sun. They will find no pot of gold there.
Yet the digitalistas who suggest those newsrooms can be readily duplicated or replaced act like willful children, unmindful that substance, craft and capacity matter in the real world, that no group of 10,000 monkeys has ever written Shakespeare, that 98 of the 100 most important pieces of public service journalism last year flowed from professionals in the newsrooms they recklessly disregard.
This is a fool's game. It's time for grown-ups to intervene, to end the debate and move beyond the empty calories of nostalgia and the masturbatory fantasies of a theory-based future. A long-deceased, much missed colleague often referred to people with mature judgment and a steady hand by saying, "She knows where babies come from." Those are the folks we need on the case now.
Really, what else is there to say? Howard's style here reminds me of Ezra Pound at his caustic, humanistic best. And yes, that's a compliment.
January 30, 2009
Now this is my kinda augmented reality.
Smart Growth vs. Dumb Growth
I'm a sucker for a big reframing, and this is about as big as they come: Umair Haque says everybody's wondering how to re-ignite economic growth, but that's the wrong question. We need to be wondering how to re-invent economic growth.
January 28, 2009
The After Party
Joshua Cohen -- philosopher, thinker on global justice, occasional blogging head, and co-editor of the super-smart Boston Review -- writes about the difference between liberals: the "classical liberals" that are now (more or less) called libertarians and the "egalitarian liberals" that are now (more or less) called progressives.
Mostly I link to it for his (almost snarky?) conclusion:
With respect, classical liberals were in the rearguard in every one of [the great achievements of democracy in the 20th century]. And for a simple reason: in each case, the struggle depended on a willingness to fight against inequality, subordination, exclusion through political means, through the dread state. And if you mix your classical liberal values with the classically conservative predisposition to think that politics is at best futile, at bad perverse, at worst risks what is most fundamental, then you will always celebrate these gains when the fight is over: always at the after party, inconspicuous at the main event, and never on the planning committee.
This is great: a librarian identifies curiously common references to "cuddling" in newspaper discussions of print and electronic books. As in, nobody is ever going to use an e-book reader because you can't "cuddle" (up with) it.
Preferably, it appears, by a fire. Because apparently everybody's got a fireplace that they read in front of, and without a proper fire, chair, smoking jacket, and appropriate analog print media, there's no reason to spend hard money on a book, magazine, or newspaper.
My favorite rejoinder is the one outlier: "Forget about the warmth a real book offers when you cuddle up with it by the fire. People spend so much time on buses and planes, in boring meetings, or at kids' soccer practices or hockey games."
I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about sites of reading and the different physical relationships to text they require. It's fascinating how particular sites and ways of reading crowd out others -- often to make a new activity seem MUCH more new than it really is.
January 26, 2009
Shut the F--- Up, Piano Man
I love Ron Rosenbaum's takedown of Billy Joel; you really have to dislike someone to go to the lengths taken by Rosenbaum to document, distill, and identify what makes them so bad.
My favorite part, though, is Rosenbaum's side-snipe at Jeff Jarvis:
Besides, some people still take Billy seriously. Just the other day I was reading my old friend Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine blog, and Jarvis (the Billy Joel of blog theorists) was attacking the Times' David Carr. (Talk about an uneven fight.) Carr was speculating about whether newspapers could survive if they adopted the economic model of iTunes. Attempting a snotty put-down of this idea, Jarvis let slip that he's a Joel fan: As an example somehow of his iTunes counter-theory, he wrote: "If I can't get Allentown, the original, I'm not likely to settle for a cover." Only the hard-core B.J. for Jeff! ("Allentown" is a particularly shameless selection on Jarvis' part, since it's one of B.J.'s "concern" songs, featuring the plight of laid-off workers, and Jarvis virtually does a sack dance of self-congratulatory joy every time he reports on print-media workers getting the ax.)
See, this is the thing: there's a weird way in which the entire attack on Billy Joel just allegorizes Rosenbaum's frustration with Jarvis. Read RR's December article, "Is Jeff Jarvis Gloating Too Much About the Death of Print?" if you're not convinced.
January 25, 2009
Pay What You Want
Three businesses near Frankfurt -- a buffet, a movie theater, and a deli -- experimented recently with pay-what-you-want pricing, a la Radiohead.
The bad news? In the buffet, customers paid,on average, 20% less than the previous posted price.
The good news? Overall traffic to the buffet increased 30% -- leading to a net gain in revenue.
The Places We Live
Striking photo project showing slums around the world. I know you probably feel like you have seen a "striking photo project showing slums around the world" before, but honestly, this one is better. Sharper, more human.
Argh, I wish I could deeplink -- trust me, you gotta skip intro, click on one of the cities, then click on one of the "household" icons. They lead to wonderful little 360-degree panoramas, each with wonderfully-translated narration. It's completely engrossing.
I totally just spent all my recommendation points on M. T. Anderson, I know... but this is really great, too.
January 23, 2009
The New Frontiersman
This will only be interesting to you if you have read Watchmen. But if you have, look out: The New Frontiersman on Twitter, with links to crazy realizations of documents and media from the Watchmen world. (For instance.) Super-nerdy fun.
Publishing 2008 (Also: The Rumpus)
Alas, I think design may serve to obfuscate, not elucidate, in this case.
Mostly I just wanted an excuse to link to The Rumpus, which is new, and seems kinda fun and kinda snooty, and therefore I think I like it.
For instance, I've been waiting for somebody to make this list.
Retro Book Cover Delights
January 22, 2009
The Page is a Screen, the Screen is a Page
Clusterflock: Paper is the New Internet.
January 20, 2009
I love the first comment on this Huffington Post page: "That was the most memorable moment on TV - EVER.......... the end." (Via.)
The Birth and Death of the American Newspaper
Not the internet, silly; Jill LePore is talking about the first Death of the American Newspaper, i.e., the Stamp Act and the American Revolution. I love the story of Boston Gazette printer Benjamin Edes:
In 1774, a British commander gave his troops a list of men—including John Hancock and Sam Adams—who, the minute war broke out, were to be shot on sight, and he added a postscript: “N.B. Don’t forget those trumpeters of sedition, the printers Edes and Gill.”
By then, there were forty newspapers in the colonies. War came, to Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775. That night, in Boston—a city held by the British—Edes and Gill hastily dissolved their partnership. Gill went into hiding. Under cover of darkness, Edes, alone, carted his printing press and types to the Charles River, where he loaded them onto a boat moored at the bank, and rowed through the night to escape the siege. In a nearby town, he set up a makeshift printing shop, and, within weeks, managed to resume printing the Gazette, on lumpy paper, with gunky ink. In besieged Boston, British troops searched for Edes but, failing to find him, made do with his nineteen-year-old son. Peter Edes spent months as a prisoner of war. He watched from the window of his cell while a fellow-prisoner, a Boston painter, was beaten until, broken, he finally called out, “God bless the King.”
Peter Edes survived. He became a printer. The war ended. It took some time to figure out what, in a republic, a newspaper was for.
Ha ha! I love this: Kottke finds resonance in our new national robots.txt.
January 19, 2009
Care, Without the Routine Cruelty
Atul Gawande, lucid and humane as ever, talks health care reform and the virtues of pragmatism in The New Yorker.
Bonus points to Gawande for employing my favorite social-scientific concept: path-dependence.
January 18, 2009
Cliched Image of Americana
I don't care. I like it.
Did anybody notice this ingenious little political maneuver in Tennessee last week?
Republicans stood poised to take control of the Tennessee General Assembly for the first time in nearly 140 years. Even Gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp roamed the halls. ... When lawmakers returned from break, now an hour into session, they tackled the Speakers position. Representative Jason Mumpower of Bristol received the first nomination. Republicans hoped to end the nomination process there, but after more political wrangling, allowed Democrats to submit a candidate.
What happened next some may describe as the political play of the decade as all 49 Democrats backed Kent Williams, a Sophomore Republican from Carter County, a district just miles from Mumpower's hometown.
Found at Political Animal.
January 15, 2009
Meme Engineering, Or, I Am a Conceptual Bro
Cross-reference with Tim's post: Hipster Runoff asserts that Animal Collective is a Band Created By/For/On the Internet.
Several people have pointed me to Hipster Runoff as this sort of mad savant of internet culture. Don't let his language fool you; this is some trenchant analysis:
I remember when I saw [Animal Collective] live in the post-Strawberry Jam world, it was swarming with entrylevel alts who were looking for a more meaningful experience than just a 'marginally dancey Cut Copy show.' At Animal Collective concerts, people are willing 2 unite, kind of like meaningful core during its peak days (ie the DeathCab TRANSATLANTICISM era).
He's created a whole dictionary and taxonomy for himself. And after you read him for a while, it starts to make sense.
There is nothing more annoying that Conceptual Artists/Bands who have allegedly garnered mainstream praise. For example, the Radioheads. Or maybe the zany broad BJORK. Maybe Sigur Ros or Arcade Fire (those 2 are a lil different/smaller). I think the main gimmick behind these bands is convincing yourself that their 'product' stands for something more than most music. They are pretty much a lifestyle brand for every sort of alternative ideal possible: social change, innovative instruments + recording techniques, reflections on humanity, usage of performance + visual art during the live show, environmental awareness, anti-War, embracing technology, innovative/meme-able music videos, having opinions on politics, and stuff like that which makes the band interesting/easy to write about.
Band as lifestyle brand! I don't know, I guess it's obvious on some level, but the way he articulates it is really sharp and refreshingly harsh. And the package matters: His bizarro blog dialect and earnest inline images are part of the argument, too.
You gotta read the whole post. Seriously. Even if you hate it. Especially if you hate it.
P.S. I found an Animal Collective track that I like.
This is, honestly, what I love most about Current: social news on one end, duPont-winning international reporting on the other. You don't have to choose.
A Band of Mechanical Minstrels
Matt, you take the Nintendo DS. Tim, you're on iPhone. Me, I'll play Electroplankton.
January 14, 2009
"What is in this fortress, you ask? Seven live musicians."
Conjures memories of pillow forts, somehow.
Narrative and Database
More on narrative from Lev Manovich, circa 2001:
Regardless of whether new media objects present themselves as linear narratives, interactive narratives, databases, or something else, underneath, on the level of material organization, they are all databases. In new media, the database supports a range of cultural forms which range from direct translation (i.e., a database stays a database) to a form whose logic is the opposite of the logic of the material form itself -- a narrative. More precisely, a database can support narrative, but there is nothing in the logic of the medium itself which would foster its generation. It is not surprising, then, that databases occupy a significant, if not the largest, territory of the new media landscape. What is more surprising is why the other end of the spectrum -- narratives -- still exist in new media.
That's a better articulation of what (I think) I was trying to get at: You can map narratives onto our weird web-world, but it's something fundamentally different underneath.
Farewell, President Gore
And Gore's decision to single-handedly venture into a flattened house in Mississippi and free a trapped two-year-old showed him to be an irresponsible showboat. Sure, President Gore knows CPR, hears like a German shepherd, and has the strength of 10 men -- but we didn't need to see it.
Chloé Mortaud, Miss France 2009
I love France, I love beauty pageants, and I love interracial families, and so it follows quite naturally that I love Chloé Mortaud, the new multinational, multiracial nineteen-year-old Miss France. Hassan Marsh at The Root has a great write-up here, and chloemortaud.com has plenty of good stuff too (the link goes directly to a video featuring her family and hometown, a small village near the Pyrenees). Also, slick design on that webpage -- very much that of a 21st-century beauty queen.
January 13, 2009
I saw this game at Target over the holidays and it freaked. me. out. BLDGBLOG has the whole story, complete with screenshots.
January 12, 2009
This New York mag story is double-awesome: It's written by the terrific Emily Nussbaum, and it features a big, bad-ass black-and-white photo of Snarkmarket pal Andrew DeVigal (and colleagues)! News-nerds triumphant!
January 11, 2009
Now This Is Civilization
I'm typing this at the airport in Denver, at an open kiosk and charging station (!) and using free, ad-supported wi-fi supplied by the airport, while waiting for my connection. I've got my phone plugged in, too -- there's even a USB outlet to charge iPods or digital cameras.
This, friends, is genius. This is what we should have at every airport, train station, hotel, library, or other public gathering place where people come whilst in transit. Every place where you currently see a fifteen-year-old cluster of pay phones, you're going to see one of these.
It'll have internet-equpped voice and video calling too. There will be a touchscreen where you can get directions around town or order food. (Probably not at the library.)
What else will we find in the media carrels of the future?
January 10, 2009
California, for Warmer Weather
Not to jinx anything, but I'm giving a job talk on Monday.
Please, please, please, let my plane get out of Philadelphia tomorrow. (They're predicting snow.)
January 9, 2009
Characters With Character
January 8, 2009
Waltz With Bashir
Lebanon -- the subject of Waltz With Bashir -- isn't Gaza, and of course all war in the Middle East isn't the same, but even so, this movie has a lot to offer, especially right now.
(Um. Take a minute before you read the next post or your brain will explode from the sudden shift in gravity.)
This is My Milwaukee
I recommend a ten-minute video with some trepidation, but honestly, this is really funny and sort of preposterously well-done. It's apparently the kick-off video for an ARG, but even if it wasn't, I'd be a fan.
(There's a science-fiction story hiding here, though it isn't evident in the first few minutes. Hang in there.)
January 7, 2009
A Look Back at Looks Ahead
Even more fun than reading predictions for 2009: reading predictions for 2008. NYMag's predix for the biggest business stories of 2008 royally missed the mark (e.g. Goldman Sachs will end the year at $300/share ... ouch). ReadWriteWeb's predix mostly bombed (Hakia goes mainstream? massive Facebook/Google decline? Twitter and Tumblr acquired?).
(I found this by searching Fimoculous.)
Ooh, here's a good one from Daily Routines: Erik Satie.
He did a lot of walking:
On most mornings after he moved to Arcueil, Satie would return to Paris on foot, a distance of about ten kilometres, stopping frequently at his favourite cafes on route.
And I love this:
Roger Shattuck, in conversations with John Cage in 1982, put forward the interesting theory that "the source of Satie's sense of musical beat -- the possibility of variation within repetition, the effect of boredom on the organism--may be this endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day ... the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment." During his walks, Satie was also observed stopping to jot down ideas by the light of the street lamps he passed.
January 6, 2009
Intelligent Life in the Universe
Magic Molly with an appealing recommendation:
This quarter's American Scholar contains, among other treats, a list of Fifteen Cosmological Questions compiled by an astronomer. It's like a Seventeen quiz, only it exercises the imagination instead of the ego.
American Scholar you. are. killing. me.
I love Holger Pooten's images of snack cascades and exploded electronics. And, I think the images are posted in exact order of interestingness, from top (most interesting) to bottom (least). Almost logarithmic!
I Hardly Know Her
January 5, 2009
Ze Frank Rides Again!
Hype Machine Hype
All right. So. Everyone tweeted and linked to Hype Machine's 2008 music zeitgeist simultaneously.
And wow, seriously, this is a neat set of web pages.
Something about the whole presentation is just really clean and... correct, you know? It all actually motivated me to create a Hype Machine account. And let me tell you: I do not create accounts on websites anymore.
This might be the future of all media, yeah? Can we get a Book Machine running on our Kindles already?
O Sweet Verse
There's a poem in the New Yorker. It's called Alien vs. Predator. Reads like nerdcore hip-hop bluster run back-and-forth through Google Translate too many times. I like it:
That elk is such a dick. He's a space tree
making a ski and a little foam chiropractor.
I set the controls, I pioneer
the seeding of the ionosphere.
I translate the Bible into velociraptor.
Sometimes a Phrase Is All You Need
Lake Michigan Stonehenge
The substance of this post over on BLDBLOG is interesting -- prehistoric ruins on the floor of Lake Michigan?? -- but honestly, it's the images that get me. Just the pure graphic characteristics of them.
They look like transmissions from another planet.
A GHOST PLANET.
Kevin on Rex
Anyway, I'm really only posting it to repeat this line:
First of all, Sorgatz apparently reads all blogs so his perspective of the landscape is stunningly broad.
January 4, 2009
Games, Art, the Usual
John Lanchester in the LRB does what I thought was impossible: advances the state of the conversation about games and art a bit. He's quite tough on video games, but reading his piece, you also get the sense that he actually plays lots of them. He knows his Fallout 3 from his LittleBigPlanet.
I like this line:
Miyamoto has, throughout his career, engaged with the question of arbitrariness by making his games more arbitrary, more silly -- by making that silliness part of the fun.
And this seems like a fair verdict, for the time being at least:
Not all games are cynically, affectlessly violent, but a lot of them are, and this trend is holding video games back. It's keeping them at the level of Hollywood blockbusters, when they could go on to be something else and something more.
I've gotten a bit bored with video games and meta-video-game commentary alike lately. I think my problem is so much of the innovation and excitement at the moment is around clever mechanics: the Wii, the iPhone's touch controls, games like World of Goo and (see below) Zen Bound. And I am bored with that stuff. I want to see games with different content -- and that's why I like Lanchester's piece.
(Via Matt P. and Rachel.)
This iPhone game looks bananas. Like... I don't even know if I want to play it. It's beautiful and evocative, but beautiful and evocative in the way that the first phase of some dark ritual would be, ya know?
January 3, 2009
In an alarming yet little-noticed series of recent studies, scientists have concluded that Canada's precious forests, stressed from damage caused by global warming, insect infestations and persistent fires, have crossed an ominous line and are now pumping out more climate-changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering.This fact might be the best illustration I've seen of the unexpected consequences of climate change. "Inexorably rising temperatures are slowly drying out forest lands, leaving trees more susceptible to fires, which release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere." What a catastrophic chain of events. How frightening to imagine that global warming is powerful and sinister enough to co-opt the very forces that ordinarily keep it in check.
January 1, 2009
Year of the Ox
Hello, 2009! Year of the ox! Year of work! Year of staying up late and getting up early. Year of nights and weekends. Year of noses and grindstones. Year of always produce. Year of there's no wind out here, so we'd better row.
Hello, 2009. I'm making you a mixtape. Here's the first track:
December 29, 2008
A Spin Around the Sun
This is what a year looks like -- only 40 seconds long!
As you watch, if you breathe in reaaally slowly, and exhale just as slowly, you can make it feel like the planet, too, is just taking a breath. (I mean, not that slowly. Don't pass out.)
Tim reminded me that Bangladesh is having elections again after a long hiatus from democracy.
Ah, Bangladesh. The candidates this time around are the same two candidates they've had for about 20 years: one the daughter of a murderer Bangladeshi politician, the other the wife of a murdered Bangladeshi politician, each now a titan in her own right.
It'd be great real-life Shakespeare if it wasn't such a drag for Bangladesh: Neither has proven to be much good for the country.
Can somebody put BRAC in charge already?
December 28, 2008
I'm Taping This Right Now
Rob Spence wears a prosthetic eye. It's the 21st Century. Ergo, Rob's new eye is going to include a video camera.
Unnerving Story of the Day™ is sponsored by Ratchet Up and the letter Um.
December 27, 2008
Was it Write Like Tom Friedman Day at the NYT on Christmas, Paul Krugman?
Just didn't want to let that one go unremarked.
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Wonderful remembrance of Bobby Fischer in the NYT Mag. The writing is just about as striking as Fischer's playing.
December 23, 2008
'The People of a Tough, Long-Lasting World'
This is the best sentence I've read all week. It's about the sun:
Eight minutes downstream at the speed of light, part of this extraordinary flux crashes down on the Earth in a 170,000-trillion-watt torrent.
And it's part of the best op-ed I've read all month. Aw heck. All year.
What feels like a million years ago, I wrote a piece for Poynter.org about the sneaky practice of releasing big news over the holidays. My list dates itself (Harvey Pitt? Wha?) but I've got a new one for you:
If you're not a news industry watcher (Romensk-who?) and/or not already a fan of Howard's, I really urge you to check out his post. It is, among other things, a practical, forceful, and graceful summation of where journalism finds itself today. It's pretty McClatchy-specific, given the context, but I think a lot of it can be generalized. And either way, it's a joy to read.
Then, you probably ought to tune in to whatever Howard gets up to next. Here's a tip: I find his Twitter feed is among the best -- and most poetic -- on my screen.
And of course, with any luck, you'll still be able to find his comments here on Snarkmarket.
December 21, 2008
Poems from 1914
Things That Are Beautiful
These shoes! (Like product placement in some near-future sci-fi movie, you know?)
These mattresses. Reminds me of how we used to roll down the stairs in boxes filled with blankets and pillows.
Portraits of Autoworkers
Terrific gallery from TIME. My impression: Wonderfully normal people working in the belly of a giant machine -- almost Matrix-like in some of these shots! -- that is slowly grinding to a halt around them.
Hang this on your virtual tree:
RSS readers: I haven't figured out how to make these embeds show up properly in the feed yet, so click through if you want to see it.
Hot Chip's Vampire Weekend
Oh boy, it's a late entrant, but this gets my nomination for cover of the year. Hot Chip does Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," with vocals by Peter Gabriel.
Prediction: In two years, no one will listen to Vampire Weekend. But they will listen to this song. And they will be like, "Wait, that's a cover?"
December 19, 2008
No Shortage of Beauty
Nation Without News
Thoughts on the collapse of the news:
We tend to get all holier-than-thou when we look at countries without free press. We think their lives must somehow be more pathetic or sad. Needless to say, this attitude makes us feel better. But people go on. They know, or at least suspect, that they are being denied something, but they maintain hope and optimism. They don't go around moping. They get on with their lives, and sometimes, at least now and then, feel like maybe the censorship doesn't matter all that much. There are still reasons to be cheerful.
The author? Why, David Byrne, of course!
I don't agree with his analysis -- I think it's quite Golden Age-ist, and silent on all the new possibilities for news -- but I really enjoyed reading it.
The Last of the Four Horsemen
This feels like a significant cultural artifact. So disturbing it's impossible to look away. I'm about to go wash my eyes out with soap.
(If you're looking for someone to blame, blame Taylor.)
Happy Birthday, Robin
I do agree that Facebook takes all of the honor out of remembering your friends' birthdays. But it also averts all of the drama of forgetting them. So ... net win. Post a review of the Prelinger film. And if you get to speak to Rick Prelinger, tell him he better put that sucker up on archive.org under a Creative Commons license. And it better be better than this.
For your birthday, I'm getting you a Facebook gift.
December 18, 2008
Let Us Now Praise Famous Bloggers
I missed Matt's comment on (and defense of) the Atlantic bloggers, so maybe you did, too. He prompted me to subscribe Ta-Nehisi Coats and re-subscribe to Ross Douthat. And in fact, I didn't even know Jeffrey Goldberg was blogging at all.
Obama As Writer (Well, Co-Writer)
I'm fascinated by Barack Obama's conception of himself as a writer, and doubly fascinated by his partnership with younger-than-me speechwriter Jon Favreau. This Washington Post article by Eli Saslow ("Helping to Write History") indulges both fascinations to the hilt. Enjoy.
December 17, 2008
Like Google Apps, Except Fun
The web-based creative apps at Aviary are out of private beta!
Go check 'em out -- it's Adobe Creative Suite in the cloud.
My favorite of them is actually the simplest: Toucan, which helps you make color swatches. More and more I realize the key to great images is color -- awareness of it, attention to it. Usually I just jack a palette from Kuler but this app makes it easy to build one from scratch.
December 16, 2008
Two Paths to the Same Place
Summary of scientific journal article or Zen koan?
To ask how life started
would be the same as to ask
when and where did the first wind blow
that quivered the surface of a warm pond.
The answer. (Bottom of the page.)
Show Me the Bones
I love that it's not just a visualization -- it's actually showing you how it was made. And showing you, in a roundabout way, how you might make one yourself.
December 15, 2008
Copious Free Time
Heh... one of the new entries on Daily Routines is Joseph Campbell's, during the Depression:
It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.
Do the math -- that's a lot of reading. Makes me think again of five- and ten-year projects, and the wonders that you can achieve...
December 12, 2008
Th'Inconstant Moon ...
... is incandescent tonight. Do give a look.
Best of the Best
Really, really love the Washington Post's extended Best Books of the year -- better I think than the NYT's list or their own top tens.
Only serious omission -- no poetry. I'd feel worse about this if the other best books list didn't practically ignore poetry already.
Also, it's set up as a "holiday guide," which I think makes it easier somehow to get you interested.
The Tipping Point
Question: Is anybody else on board with the notion that the Atlantic's blogs have outpaced the mag itself for interestingness? Last month's issue had a ton of interesting stuff, so I picked it up, and enjoyed it, but kept finding myself going to the respective authors' spots online to read what they and their commenters wrote about the article. Is it just me?
Snarkmarket's Best of '08
December 11, 2008
The 21st Century Capitalist
For years now, Umair Haque has been arguing that the core of the global economy is bad -- and that it's much deeper than sketchy mortgages. It has to do with decades-old assumptions about strategy and even older delusions about value. (Here's a good example of how he thinks.)
It's always cold comfort to be proven right when your argument is so apocalyptic -- but Haque is more than a Pandora. He's got prescriptions, too.
Whether Haque has got all the answers, I can't judge; but man, I really appreciate the fact that he is thinking about things in such an original way -- using different language, and fighting for a different conventional wisdom.
You guys read Fubiz, right? It's my favorite blog discovery of the past few months. The fact that it's in French (which I do not read) makes it even better, somehow.
Recent posts I liked:
From Above They Look Like Brains
Favorite new phrase (well, new to me): the sentient city.
December 10, 2008
Best X of 2008
Hey, let's make a best-of list and get it into Rex's meta-monster.
The "ideas" category is pretty empty right now. I feel like we could beat the NYT Mag to the punch. And it's sorta up Snarkmarket's alley, you know?
But I'm open to "paranormal" too.
What do you think? (This is the meta-question. We'll get to constructing the list soon enough. But first let's decide what list we're going to construct.)
The Decision Tree
Thomas Goetz over at Epidemix is writing a book -- and relaunching his blog: The Decision Tree. Here's the nut of it:
The premise is that we are at a new phase of health and medical care, where more decisions are being made by individuals on their own behalf, rather than by physicians, and that, furthermore, these decisions are being informed by new tools based on statistics, data, and predictions. This is a good thing -- it will let us, the general public, live better, happier, and even longer lives. But it will require us to be stewards of our health in ways we may not be prepared for. We will act on the basis of risk factors and predictive scores, rather than on conventional wisdom and doctors recommendations.
In other words: An apple a day reduces your chance of seeing the doctor 84%, based on your genetic profile and other risk factors.
I have been a big fan of Thomas's blogging and his magazine writing, so I think this is going to be good.
And, is it just me, or is biotech still the revolution-to-come? The decision tree, 23andme, synthetic biology -- are we on the cusp of something, or is this stuff, like "real" A.I., always going to be five years away?
The Boom in Unemployment Media
Oh, this is just the beginning: Unemploymentality.
December 9, 2008
Your Daily Moment of Zen
This is so weird. It's just another Nintendo DS hack, but there's something about the video... he is speaking so emphatically! And in Japanese! And those Kanye glasses... and the weird orality of it all... I don't know, this is a little more "hey look random whoah" than the usual Snarkmarket fare, but I was transfixed.
December 8, 2008
These are all old-ish posts, so maybe this blog has already made the rounds, but I am mesmerized:
Le Corbusier's daily routine. No office 'til 2 p.m.!
Philip Roth's. Solitude.
Haruki Murakami's. Physical activity, repetition.
Benjamin Franklin's. My favorite.
I am not a huge Winnie the Pooh fan -- none of the characters are actually that likable, you know? -- but I have to admit, in these original illustrations, Piglet stands as perhaps the most charmingly-rendered character ever.
One feels that E. H. Shephard's soul is visible in those strokes.
I mean come on.
December 7, 2008
Powers That Be
Pretty Prose for an Ugly Sport
December 6, 2008
Watch for the clutch cameo by Mark Ganek!
December 5, 2008
Column and Slab
Any other dream homes out there in the snarkmatrix?
Alphabetical New York Times
And note that it's not a Photoshop job but rather scalpel and glue.
December 4, 2008
O Holy Night
Kottke plugs The Millions' annual Year in Reading list, a collection of (not necessarily timely) awesome-book nominations from interesting Web people. I've actually wanted to read most of the books they recommend, which separates this list from most others.
December 3, 2008
Health Care Reading
All posted by Ezra Klein at some point or another:
- The Health of Nations: Klein's 2007 round-up of European health care systems.
- The Evidence Gap: "The institute, known as NICE, has decided that Britain, except in rare cases, can afford only Ł15,000, or about $22,750, to save six months of a citizen’s life."
- Our Invisible Poor: The essay that inspired JFK to declare war on poverty.
Love this bit from Clay Shirky:
Businesses don't survive in the long term because old people persist in old behaviors; they survive because young people renew old behaviors, and all the behaviors young people are renewing cluster around reading, while they are adopting almost none of the behaviors tied to cherishing physical containers, whether for the written word or anything else.
Emphasis mine. I think it's true!
Me and My Seven Genius Friends
I love this little anecdote from Paul Graham's latest essay:
The eight men who left Shockley Semiconductor to found Fairchild Semiconductor, the original Silicon Valley startup, weren't even trying to start a company at first. They were just looking for a company willing to hire them as a group. Then one of their parents introduced them to a small investment bank that offered to find funding for them to start their own, so they did. But starting a company was an alien idea to them; it was something they backed into.
Isn't it sweet -- not usually a word you associate with Silicon Valley -- to think about these eight men and their affection for, and loyalty to, one another?
That's an under-recognized part of the startup motivation, I think: the desire to work with exactly the people you want to work with.
I Am A Robot. Can I Help You?
Microsoft is working on a robot receptionist.
Also from Network World's slideshow: The project's code name is "Robot Receptionist."
And "What It Is: A Robot Receptionist."
The Inside Light
Portraits of "creative people who had to define their personal inspiration in one word." Sharp, fun, luminous.
You know, I think everybody should have a sharp, fun, luminous portrait taken. There's something so exalting about it. The democratization of exaltation, to match the democratization of manipulation.
December 2, 2008
Salsa Is From the 16th Century
And funnel cake is from 1879!
I'm in love with the Food Timeline!
(Via Alexis Madrigal.)
Go Go Sabamiso
Yeah yeah, I know, there are a million great photos on Flickr, and a million great photographers to follow.
But there's something about sabamiso.
I get this sense that I am really seeing the world through somebody else's eyes here, in a very particular -- and honest -- way. And I feel like there's a story in progress... that I do not really understand. Like, whuh? Say what? Hmm. Whoah!
And the same decade?
Favorite non-friend, non-family Flickr feed, hands down.
November 30, 2008
Swann and Odette's Little Phrase
A terrific post by Blair Sanderson sleuthing the real-life identity of the fictional Vinteuil's Sonata from Marcel Proust's Swann's Way.
Since it's at All Music Guide, there are also streaming samples of some of the contenders, including Gabriel Fauré's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8, Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata, L. 140, and Sanderson's most likely candidate, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75.
November 29, 2008
The Explanatory Power of Images
The Big Picture's new post is about Mumbai. I have to say: I understand it better having looked at these. More and more I'm starting to think the future of journalism is more images, more images, more images. Not just images -- never just images -- but honestly, I've read a lot of articles about Mumbai over the last three days and words are just not capable of communicating some parts of this story -- of any story.
However, fair warning: I did not click the black boxes. You're on your own with those.
I think you should go see Slumdog Millionaire this weekend. Seriously.
That might seem off-kilter, because this is a movie about Mumbai that is fundamentally optimistic -- a comedy, in the classic sense -- and the real tale of Mumbai these past few days has been anything but.
But Slumdog Millionaire also has it share of darkness; it doesn't stint on the grim, weird things that are a part of this city's life.
More importantly, it is, all together, the most interesting, accessible, and revelatory portrait of modern India I've ever seen. And if you find yourself a bit at odds, feeling like you ought to do something -- ought to attend to these events mentally or morally in some way -- I think learning isn't a bad place to start.
P is for Pirate
If you read only one Somali pirate story, make it this one:
"Mummy, mummy, please can I phone the pirates for you?"
By this time, with rain battering my windscreen and cars jamming the road, I was at the end of my tether.
"OK", I said, tossing the phone into the back of the car. "They are under P for pirates."
"Hello. Please can I talk to the pirates," said my daughter in her obviously childish voice.
I could hear someone replying and a bizarre conversation ensued which eventually ended when my daughter collapsed in giggles.
This was a breakthrough. Dialogue had been established.
I just discovered this site, a collection of expositions of the fugues in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Some of Tim Smith's writings are pretty opaque to those of us who aren't trained in music, but many of his comments are accessible enough. ("If you think of the subject as a dancer, then the fugal process is one of finding a suitable partner. But what if the dancer has the ability to be its own partner? Well that is stretto. And stretto is what the C Major fugue is all about.")
And the visualizations help, although I wish they were done in Flash instead of Shockwave. But hey, it was made in 2002.
November 28, 2008
The Blogger I Miss Most...
... is easily Ben Vershbow, formerly of if:book.
The only post-IFB news I can find of him is a Book Expo Canada from June. I hope he is doing something appropriately awesome.
Boy, This "Gastrosnark" Category Sure Is Useful ...
Found on Ask MetaFilter: "When asked for dessert recommendations, my friend’s 8-year-old son suggested 'chocolate chip cookies with chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough in them.' How on earth can I pull off this fantastic treat?"
November 27, 2008
100 Notable Books
The NYT's annual booklist is out, in case you missed it.
(BTW, Rex's annual list of lists is also in process.)
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
If you want to make your entire house smell amazing for two hours, make this. Exactly as the recipe says. It's brilliant.
Note: The jalapenos seem like a lot at first. Just go with it. I was also tempted to put in a little more water, but I'm happy I didn't. The recipe is perfect. Trust the recipe.
Also: My other contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is creamy potatoes au gratin. I diced the onions like a few of the other reviewers did, sprinkled over a dusting of garlic salt-and-pepper seasoning, and topped the whole with bread crumbs and a handful of shredded cheese before putting it into the oven.
November 26, 2008
You Get Two Guesses
Does this abstract come from The Onion or The New York Times?
Modern pentathlon has been cut from five events to four in a bid to boost its popularity and stay in the Olympics, combining shooting and running into a single event.
The Two-Disc Special Edition and Blu-Ray Edition of The Dark Knight ships with a digital AVI copy of the movie; if you buy it on Amazon, you can stream it right away as an Unbox video-on-demand.
Explain to me again why Amazon couldn't make the same model work for books?
Violence to Books
Sin against the Holy Spirit: I'm debating buying a fast sheet-fed scanner and cutting up my library so I can have it with me all the time as PDFs.
Insane? Genius? Should I just get a Kindle instead?
November 25, 2008
I've got two fun US transit infrastructure data visualizations for you.
Go Throwbot Go
In the future, soldiers don't throw grenades. They throw robots.
November 24, 2008
Processing has been hugely important to me -- it's basically what transitioned me from a non-programmer to hacky programmer. (It's progress.) Processing's is the first forum I've contributed to since the Prodigy video game boards in 1992. (And these contributions are, er, a little more thoughtful.)
And seeing what others have done with Processing has bent my ambitions around (going for sort of a gravity well vs. photons analogy here) and set me on a track towards things like generative media. In fact, I think it's fair to say that Processing changed my life. Whoah -- I don't think I'd even had that thought before just now. Heavy! True!
So thanks Casey, thanks Ben, and thanks to everybody who's contributed code, time, expertise and explanation. It's a brilliant, broad-spirited project, and I'm delighted to see it flourish.
I Hate Cooking, But...
Jason's write-up of the Alinea cookbook (which is sponsoring his RSS feed -- wow, talk about sentences that only make sense in the year 2008) made me start thinking about, um, cookbooks.
I own two: One entry-level affair called "The Essentials of Cooking" and another slim volume called "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen."
But I'm starting to think maybe I've been taking the wrong approach. Turns out I am never going to cook a workmanlike stew for myself. I'm not going to fire up some sorta chicken stir fry. It's just too boring, and the take-out options in San Francisco are just too good.
But what about more interesting fare? What about the fun stuff?
What's your best way-out-there recipe? Something that's not just fun to eat but fun to make?
November 23, 2008
When Big Systems Change
I love stories of big systems changing. Especially systems so deep that we don't necessarily think of them as things you can change. Case in point: The Japanese court system is adding juries for the first time.
(America's legal tradition has had juries since 1166. This does not feel like a thing that changes.)
So Japan's new Saiban-in system has juries with six citizens and three judges, all sitting together. And check this out:
Perhaps the starkest departure from the U.S. method is that the panels will be encouraged to participate in "intermediate" deliberations. Panel member Reiko Kaihatsu '08 LL.M., a judge in the Saitama District Court, said that the nine jurors should "discuss and evaluate the evidence" throughout the trial -- while, say, on recess or at lunch. She explained that legislative planners learned in a series of mock trials that such discussions facilitate two of the court system's chief goals, speed and transparency. In other words, the single most infamous cause for mistrials in the United States -- jurors discussing a case and forming an opinion prior to deliberations -- will be a central component of the Saiban-in way.
You know what I'd read? A concise book called Our Systems. It would cover the basics of how societies on earth are organized -- how they choose leaders, collect and spend money, manage markets, make and enforce laws -- and would endeavor to present each system in good faith, whether it's the U.S., Egypt, Russia, Sweden, or China. That is, it would be descriptive, not prescriptive -- and to the degree possible, it would skip the root ideologies (I feel like we've heard all about those) and get to the nuts and bolts: How many people on a jury? How do you pick a judge? Who's allowed to own land? Who picks the president? And so on.
And let me emphasize: concise. There's probably some Comparative Government book out there that does what I want -- in 700 pages. But I want 70. Or seven!
November 22, 2008
Speaking of Kevin Kelly, I had basically taken for granted that one of us had already posted his call for more visions of the near future, given our recent spate of near-futurism. It appears no one had. Well, that's fixed.
I'll definitely back up Robin; check out NYTMag's Screens issue. (Is there no way to permalink whole issues? Blerg.)
My favorite story, though, is Ross Simonini's "The Sitcom Digresses," which traces the genealogy of the digression/flashback in TV comedies from The Simpsons to 30 Rock and ultimately to the postmodern novel. So:
Tristram Shandy -> Gravity's Rainbow -> The Simpsons -> Family Guy -> Scrubs -> Arrested Development -> 30 Rock
This reminded me that while we generally have a pretty good sense of developments in technique and changes in style in movies and literature, TV history is driven almost entirely by content. The sense of form is much looser -- I know that Malcolm in the Middle or Bernie Mac are single-camera shows, and look different from Seinfeld or I Love Lucy -- but what was the first single-camera sitcom? Who first added a phony laugh track? When did that get discredited?
Who are the great television directors? If we really are becoming people of the screen, we ought to know.
November 21, 2008
Ummm. The NYT Mag this weekend has gone completely meta-media. It is glorious.
Update: But you know this part is my favorite, of course.
The Long Campaign
Field organizer for the Democratic primary in Las Vegas, NV and Flagstaff, AZ
What's the best way to pick up an Obama campaigner?
Volunteer. Campaigners never have time to date anyone they don't see in the office. Bonus if you shower and dress in clean clothes. No one in the office has time to do that.
What has working on a campaign taught you about relationships?
For one thing, you can't date someone who doesn't understand campaigning. But in the real world, it taught me that there are a lot of men in their mid-to-late twenties who are very driven and motivated to succeed. Eighteen months ago, I thought they were all jerks.
The guy I've been seeing for a few weeks hasn't replied to my last email, but has updated his Facebook status since then. Should I be worried?
Yes. Working on campaigns taught me that when you really want something, the best way to get it is to continually call until you get it, whether it's an endorsement or a date.
Sadly, the rest of the article is kind of a disappointment -- nothing you wouldn't find from a random sampling of twentysomethings.
November 20, 2008
Current.com's 404 page is awesome.
(First column, third row!)
November 19, 2008
2019 Looks and Sounds Like This
(P.S. 2019 doesn't actually look like that. I just wanted to keep the meme going.)
November 18, 2008
SNARKMARKET ALERT: Snarkstruct 2019
The challenge is to generate an avalanche of different visions of the future in a mere 19 hours. To do that, you would need a crew of creative, engaged people... ideally from many different backgrounds... ideally used to asking and answering interesting questions... ideally kinda nerdy... ideally reading this right now.
IF ONLY WE HAD SUCH A CREW.
I'll kick it off in the comments, but then it's your turn. Remember, it can just be a sentence or two. Let's see if we can hit
I'm gonna focus on "the future of society" -- how do you share your feelings in 2019? -- and I invite you to do the same, but feel free to choose any of the five options listed in the link above.
Update: Whoah! Awesome responses so far. We still have 'til noon PST, so chime in!
Our Academic Rival
MIT is starting a Center for Future Storytelling. But it doesn't start 'til 2010, which means we have time here at Snarkmarket to completely dominate this nascent field.
Pls suggest immediate research projects in the comments.
Funding is available.
November 17, 2008
You Don't Get to Choose Your Nickname
Fancy new Chinese buildings with humble nicknames:
Many of the famous new buildings that have gone up in Beijing recently have been given their own tags by the people. The National Center for the Performing Arts is known as the "Duck Egg." The National Stadium is known as the "Bird's Nest." They're both humble yet fitting names for these grand edifices.
So... what's this one called?
Robert Reich has a great (short!) new post: If they're too big to fail, they're too big, period.
(Cross-reference with Wired's old (but still classic) interview with Peter Drucker. Different argument, but complementary.)
(Via Ted R.)
November 13, 2008
Here is a Picture of a Tiny Animal
Apropos of nothing: What a wonderful little expression.
Slow Snarkmarket! I'll pick up the pace next week, promise.
November 10, 2008
Adventures in Dorm Food
GOOD deploys a first-hundred-days mega-chart onto their aptly-named awesome.goodmagazine.com subdomain.
On Bill Clinton's third day in office, he lifted the global gag rule. On George Bush's third day in office, he reinstated it. Watch for Barack Obama to blow it away again.
Meta: I love GOOD's infographic work. Why isn't it more popular? The fact that it never really seems to break out calls into question some of my core beliefs about what people find cool and useful. Troubling. Any ideas?
No Sleep 'Til Barack-lyn
Super-smart CNET reporter Caroline McCarthy just posted a piece with some nice details about Current's election stuff and even a quote or two from meee. "No rest for the Web's election-weary" indeed.
Kinda related: Al's talk at Web 2.0 was the best I've ever seen him give. Worth the time if you've got it.
November 9, 2008
These simulated favelas created by Spanish artist Dionisio Gonzalez are magnificent. The simulations echo the ad hoc architecture of the shantytowns of Sao Paulo. As well as the pure imaginative chaos they evoke, I like that they come across as thoughtful without seeming either to exploit or glorify the real favelas.
Control Browser Refreshing
After the ABC News site auto-reloaded the page three times while I was trying to watch an 18-minute segment from This Week, I went hunting for a way to make Firefox prevent this. Fortunately, it's wonderfully easy. Go to about:config, bypass the warning message, and look for "accessibility:blockautorefresh." By default, this is set to false. Set it to true, and Firefox will prompt you for approval whenever a site tries to refresh itself.
If you're wondering why so many sites auto-refresh these days, it's basically a cheap and easy way to inflate our pageview counts. What we tell you, of course, is that we want to make sure that if you keep the site open in a tab while you click away, we want to make sure you see the freshest content when you click back. I strongly suspect if that were really our primary motive, we'd find a way to update our pages with AJAX, thereby preventing a severely annoying disruption of the site experience.
November 6, 2008
Watching CNN Like Everybody Else
The Obama campaign's official photos from election night -- surreal in their normalcy.
Well, until they get up on stage.
The Politics of Grace
Rachel with a bit of comparative democracy. She calls what we've seen "the politics of grace" -- what a wonderful phrase.
I would say it's also the politics of revelation. We know things today that we didn't on Tuesday morning. You look around and think: Aha. This is the country I'm living in. I hadn't realized.
November 5, 2008
Current.com on Election Day
WOW. Sorry for the gratuitous Current link, but honestly, I can't even believe we're on this list. Pretty cool.
My President is Black / My Lambo's Blue
This is ridiculous, and awesome:
I Was Born By the River
Oh, and why the heck not taste it again for the first time:
November 2, 2008
'I Had Grown Too Comfortable in My Solitude'
Obama doesn't play the game the way it is usually played. He also seems to have an unusual personality for a politician: early on in Dreams From My Father, he writes: "I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew." Immediately afterwards, he tells the story of an elderly man who lives in his building, who he sees sometimes, helps with the groceries, but who has never said a word to him. He thinks of the man as a kindred spirit. Later, the man is found dead; his apartment is "neat, almost empty", with money squirreled away throughout. It's clear, from the way he tells the story, that this seems to him to be one of his possible fates, and though his description of the man is kind throughout, it's also clear that Obama thinks: his fate is to be avoided.
Ask yourself when you last heard of a politician who had to warn himself away from solitude, or who saw dying alone, without friends or family, as among his possible fates. Imagine how unlikely it is that, say, Bill Clinton ever thought: I have grown too comfortable in my solitude. Politicians normally crave attention. Obama seems to me not to. That's probably one reason why he can afford to underplay his hand sometimes, and to hold back. And it's certainly part of what makes him so interesting.
(Yeah, I realize it's been blockquote-o-rama lately. Cut me some slack. I'll write more when Obama's president.)
The Ecstasy of Influence
Artists who believe in the mystique of originality are often reluctant to reveal their inspirations. But the magpielike Mr. Desplechin revels in what the writer Jonathan Lethem has called the ecstasy of influence. "I didn't invent anything," he said. "Being a director is not such a grand thing. My job is just to show the audience what I love."
Mr. Desplechin's movie looks terrific.
The Possibility of Success
What would happen if the cynicism that afflicted us--crippled us, really--since Watergate suddenly dissipated? I'm not saying that we should ever stop being critical or skeptical, but what if our first impulse weren't the debilitating assumption of bad intentions on the part of our public figures? What if we left open the possibility of nobility, the possibility of success?
November 1, 2008
IMs About This Recording
A: there was a mad men review of the episode with the rothko in it
A: that made me proud to be alive
R: that's praise.
A: and not exaggeration
A: i got really excited about living in these times
A: in a world where people can have and share ideas like this etc etc
A: golden glowing moment
A: (i'd probably just finished a cup of coffee)
Don't sit around wondering about the golden age, the renaissance, the where-it's-at -- you're in it!
October 31, 2008
Boy Eats Drum Machine
Wow, I liked this song a lot.
October 30, 2008
Current Diggs the Election
Election night, Current-style: all infographics and social media feeds and a live set from Diplo backing it all up.
(And how great is that promo?? Props to Meghan.)
The Art of Obama
October 28, 2008
Dance of Democracy
The Art of Participation
The idea is that at the beginning of the exhibition there is literally nothing on the wall. With your collaboration, and with a lot of help from students and volunteers from around the Bay Area, The Gift will be produced over time. We'll use the photo studio to take portrait pictures of museum-goers which will then be printed, framed, exhibited, and stored all on the same floor, all on view.
...on closing day, we'll have a big communal event (a.k.a "a party!"), and the artist will hand out a picture to everyone who contributed theirs to the project. In other words, if you have given your portrait, you will then also own a part of the collection. You don't get your own photo, however; you get a picture of a stranger, and the condition of receiving a portrait is that it then gets exhibited elsewhere (BART station/your living room/your tropical vacation?).
So glad I (somewhat randomly) signed up for an SFMOMA membership a few months ago. See you at the opening!
October 27, 2008
Love this simple demo video. It feels like it could be a metaphor for something.
Also, I think I want to play a full-blown first-person-shooter that's in stark black-and-white like this. Half-Life meets Sin City!
October 23, 2008
If you were to take every film director in the world and do a calculation something like this...
general public awareness
...I think Mike Leigh would end up with the highest score, and it would be something stratospheric, like nine hundred quadrillion. (The unit, of course, is snarkpoints.)
Here's the new Onion A.V. Club interview. I haven't seen Happy Go Lucky yet but I have seen Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy, Vera Drake, and more, and they're all sublime. Super-serious and sophisticated, but totally fun and watchable too.
Here's a taste of Leigh:
AVC: Happy-Go-Lucky also suggests that happiness is as much a matter of perspective as it is things going your way. It's likely that someone else who haves Poppy's life would pretty miserable with it.
ML: I don't agree with that. It's an unhealthy habit to say that life is what you make of it and if you want to be happy, then you can be happy. That's just rubbish, basically. Life is about luck and it's about circumstances and socioeconomic conditions and all the rest of it, but you know you can also make choices and it's about spirit and generosity and all the other things, too. This film is about somebody who is open and has a capacity not to be judgmental and to empathize and to love.
Leigh gives off the same vibe I always get from Philip Pullman -- somehow both large-spirited and tough, verging on ornery. I really like the combo.
A Phrase for Our Time
Seriously, I love it. Cottage industry, artisanal content, the Fortune 5,000,000,000, etc.
October 22, 2008
The Last Words of David
A propos of nothing, I'm going to point you to the best song we performed in high school choir, Randall Thompson's "The Last Words of David," as interpreted by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Man, that's some great stuff.
October 20, 2008
A paean to newspapers, in a roundabout sort of way. At first it just seems like a funky video collage, but then you realize what the creator is up to.
That stack of newsprint in the corner has a continuity to it.
I like this video a lot. Its speed and soundtrack make it feel like it should be about, you know, the! modern! world! -- but, surprise, it's actually a meditation on all the things that don't change day-to-day.
(Via Jean Snow.)
Um, yes pls:
Learning Music began as a collaborative album-a-month project, commencing in November 2006 and concluding in November of 2007. The series included an album recorded entirely on handheld cassette recorder, a collection of music videos filmed before the music was made, songs for an autobiographical musical written by a robot, and dozens of homemade electro-acoustic folk-pop anthems.
I'll be honest, it's a little uneven. But... "songs for an autobiographical musical written by a robot"? Come on.
New season of Vanguard starting soon. I still maintain: It's the best video journalism being done by anyone, anywhere, right now.
P.S. Robot nation!
October 19, 2008
'Bout damn time
Slate redesigns. Again. For the last year or so, I've debated doing a follow-up post on my snark-out of their 2006 redesign, just to verify that I never got over my initial awful reaction to the site. I've got some problems with the new design, but they're minor compared to my feelings on the former look.
I have this funny feeling that the separation between the "Today in Slate" and "Slate Blogs" tabs isn't going to last ...
October 18, 2008
Am I the only one that's been buying tons of music from the Amazon MP3 store?
It is actually now easier to buy music the legit way, via Amazon, than it is to pirate it. I mean, I guess it depends on your personal money/time mapping, but for me... a mere $9 for an album vs. a bunch of interminable torrenting? The choice is clear.
Maybe the travails of digital content have been overstated. Maybe the problem hasn't been paying for content, per se, but rather the lame, broken contexts in which that payment has, 'til now, been embedded.
Seriously curious, though: Is anybody else as sold on this as I am? Or are you still slurping your jams down from some darknet somewhere? Why? Feel free to comment anonymously!
October 16, 2008
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has the first video of the procedurally-generated multiplayer game called Love. It's the solo project of a guy named Eskil Steenberg. One man making a procedurally-generated multiplayer game by himself is exactly as crazy (and awesome) as it sounds.
I remember seeing this frame from the game months ago and being totally struck by its artfulness.
(Via Eskil's blog.)
October 15, 2008
The Man With the Master Graph
Hmm, "quantitative writing." I like that.
New Obama poster by Jonathan Hoefler. All typography. I love it.
The democratization of manipulation proceeds apace!
October 14, 2008
Follow-up: I feel like Very Short List is a proxy for The Daily Beast -- not because they're trying to do the same thing exactly, but because they're trying to do the same thing generally, are both good-enough ideas that seem fairly well-executed, are both weird web offshoots of the old-school Manhattan mediaplex, were both initiated by larger-than-life magazine editors, etc., etc.
(To be fair, VSL distinguishes itself by being a small, focused operation. Contrast to my main critique of The Daily Beast: What am I supposed to look at on this page??)
Sooo, is VSL actually doing well? Any clues? Do you subscribe? I used to, but found myself deleting the emails without opening them, so eventually gave up on it.
October 13, 2008
Bet you never thought you'd see a Venn diagram that featured Very Short List, the Wall Street Journal, and Snarkmarket! Matt's Money Meltdown gets a link from one of the pickiest filters around.
October 12, 2008
October 10, 2008
A Little Less Ivy in the Bank
QUESTION: How has the stock market's precipitous plunge affected college endowments, especially the titanic ones, e.g. Harvard and Yale? Will it affect their scholarship programs -- many of which are generous and new?
Or did Harvard's legendary money managers somehow manage to beat the market again?
If I worked at a newspaper or financial news website I would assign this story right now. But I don't, so I'll just blog it here.
Rise of the image fall of the word!
To my ever-increasing embarrassment, I am totally monolingual. Maybe that's why I am also increasingly fascinated with the typography of other languages: What's the Helvetica of Japanese? What's the Comic Sans of Hindi? Who's the hot young Arabic type designer?
This doesn't quite answer those questions, but it's pretty awesome: Jonathan Hoefler on the insanely logical and self-consistent Korean alphabet:
Typographically, I envy my Korean counterparts who get to work with Hangul, with its letterforms that always fit into a square, and can be read in any direction (horizontally or vertically.) And best of all: no kerning!
Any pointers to cool non-Roman-alphabet typography out there?
October 9, 2008
Go to Where the Party's Going, Not Where It's Been
Oh man, I love this. Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine with the metaphor for success in media today: "...figuring out where the party is at nowadays, and setting yourself to be the one who's over there hosting the party."
It makes a lot more sense if you watch his whole video. Which you should.
Improving the debates
Last Thursday's Presidential debate was widely panned for its ridiculous format. Seriously? Two-minute responses and one-minute followups? And this is supposed to transcend talking points?
The Lehrer debate felt much meatier to me. It clearly showcased two men who had very different (but both quite substantial) views on foreign policy, and allowed them to contrast those views at length. Still, any amount of time spent paying attention to the moderator in a Presidential debate is wasted time, and Lehrer had to do a fair amount of refereeing to keep the candidates in line.
CJR's got some excellent ideas for shaking up the debate format. I've got one more:
What if we allotted to each of the candidates a block of time — say 40 minutes — and allow them to apportion it however they'd like? Engage a moderator merely to pause the debate and send the candidates in another direction if they get stuck on a particular topic, but mostly allow them to steer the debate where they'd like. Each candidate could be wired with a mic that detects when he's speaking and winds down the clock, and both the candidates and the viewers can see how much time each one has left.
You could even take this a little further by employing a team of fact-checkers who work furiously during the debate to spot misstatements of fact. If a candidate is discovered to have fudged the truth, the misstatement is revealed during the course of the debate and the candidate is docked a minute. (This would be difficult to enforce and cause a lot of partisan sniping, so the plan might be better without, but I offer it as a possibility.)
What say you, Snarkmind?
I love this. Ironic Sans posts a video of the CNN Election Center, left momentarily unattended. It's like an outtake from a dystopian '80s movie about the future.
Conflict in the Middle East
Infosthetics points to this well-done short about the standoff in the Middle East. Being five minutes long, of course it dispenses with a lot of the actual geopolitics of the matter (leaving the prophetic religious elements of the conflict entirely unmentioned, even), but it's pretty.
Lego + NRA =
October 8, 2008
Blackwater Yard Sale!
Oh man, this is why you have got to sign up for the Blackwater email list:
Is this a sign of the times? How will the credit bust affect mercenary armies?? THINK OF THE CORPORATE MILITIAS, PEOPLE.
Can't believe I haven't linked to this yet, as I've been enjoying it for weeks: Kyle T. Webster's Daily Figure. Gestural figure drawing was always my favorite part of art classes -- though I could never do it this well.
FYI, this satisfies your FDA daily recommended allowance of line art.
October 6, 2008
(Also on Kottke. But I got it from the Big Picture RSS feed. Lest you think me a link-poacher.)
Musical Mario Paint
Hmm I feel that my links have been sub-par lately. I'll write about my current project soon... and remember there's always this (email it to your grandma!)... but in the meantime I am in love with these Mario Paint masterpieces. In no small part because I myself was a Mario Paint maestro back in the day. Man, do you remember the SNES mouse? What a weird contraption.
October 5, 2008
The Art of the Panda
By now you know I like title sequences better than movies themselves. The latestgreatest example is Kung-Fu Panda, which was actually fairly sweet and clever... but was also completely bested by its own title sequence. Watch it in HD here.
October 1, 2008
The Money Meltdown
'I Will Have as My Student Only Mademoiselle Camille Claudel'
Wow. Read the tragic tale of Rodin and Camille. (Yes, that Rodin.) Intense. Why isn't this a movie yet?
P.S. Lots more artists in love!
September 29, 2008
The Global Economy
It's not just the U.S. markets; now the Nikkei-225 is down 5%, the Hang Seng is down 5.5%, Brazil's index is down 10%, etc., etc. For some reason, this creeps me out in a way the Dow, etc., did not.
What's the best source for smart reporting on this crisis -- from a global perspective? The Economist seems to be posting at magazine-pace... FT seems okay. What else is out there?
Elements in the Basement
- dramatizes basic chemistry as interludes at a dance party
- is crazy
- was produced for the European Union's YouTube channel!
To all these things I say: YES.
September 28, 2008
Behold, the Maltese Falcon
WHOAH. Telstar Logistics has a couple of great shots of the coolest boat in the world. It sort of barely fits under the Golden Gate Bridge. I wish it belonged to an evil genius super-villain instead of a VC.
September 25, 2008
Edward Hopper on Salvia
September 24, 2008
Julian Beever's three-dimensional sidewalk drawings are the new salvia. (Via.)
September 21, 2008
Orchestra of One (Age Four)
Video of the day: Cutest kid ever = sound machine. Give it 'til 0:50 at least! And then you won't be able to stop.
It's like that video of the crazy-haired kid (which I cannot find, because all I can think of to search for is "video crazy hair kid") except cuter.
September 15, 2008
Tweeting the Debates on Current
Been working on this. Get your #current hashtags ready!
Update: Neat-o video promo!
September 13, 2008
This Space Intentionally Left Blank
I'm going to just go ahead and put a post here with nothing in it, because I know I'm going to find something cool on Monday and want to blog it -- but will feel weird about bumping down DFW.
So now I'll just be bumping down this empty post. Which is not sad or serious at all.
An Irresistible Entertainment
Gasp. DFW killed himself yesterday. How awful.
This MetaFilter thread collects some of his inimitable work:
September 12, 2008
Another Laptop Audio Auteur
September 10, 2008
How much do you love this? The title sequence from To Kill a Mockingbird. Totally beautiful.
The Annotated Shampoo Aisle
GoodGuide looks great -- it's a database of products (mostly bathroom and kitchen stuff for now, but presumably expanding over time) connected to a deep well of information about supply chains and environmental impact. Products all get a score, 0-10. I love the idea of being able to instantly query this site from the grocery store via, say, an iPhone app.
And yo, this is the kind of project a news organization could/should have done. It's all about context!
September 8, 2008
House of Pancakes
September 7, 2008
I know this is ridiculous, but c'mon... I'm proud of it! My first appearance in a work of Popular Non-Fiction. Big thanks to Jeff Howe for including Current, and both my colleague Ezra and I by extension.
Clearly, you should buy the book, Crowdsourcing, immediately, so as to send an unmistakable message to publishers: Snarkmaster citations mean big money!
Walker Gone Wild
Mpls wonder-blogger Max Sparber offers a peek at some of the most fascinating esoterica in the permanent collection of my beloved Walker Arts Center. Sample:
The Walker has dozens of pieces by Pettibon; this particular one is an ink-spattered sketch of the most self-reflective character in the history of comics, Batman, facing a woman with a gun while disconnected passaged from his endless internal monologues crowd his head. Most of the quotes a vaguely sexual, or explicit, such as a comment from Robin saying, "I have studied the bats trying to understand Batman's complex psycho-sexuality." This actually seems intended as a retort to Batman's first quote. "Robin," he says, "you came too soon."
September 4, 2008
Hard-Hitting RNC Commentary
Random Twitterer is right, yo. Sarah Palin's suit is the surprise hit of the night. I'm the guy that has long hated coverage of female candidates that insisted on mentioning their clothing choices, but seriously, I want that suit. Even my potential appearance in Steve Schmidt's talking points about male blogger misogyny cannot prevent me from complimenting that fierce piece of gun-metal grey hottness.
September 3, 2008
Wired is running a blog that chronicles the behind-the-scenes process of "assigning, writing, editing and designing" a feature.
The feature is about Charlie Kaufman.
It looks great so far: videos, story pitches, emails, etc. You have to be a pretty giant nerd to enjoy this level of meta-media, but I assume you are, so check it out.
(Via Alexis Madrigal.)
September 2, 2008
MP3 of the day: Ratatat remix over on Gorilla vs. Bear.
Also: This track from High Places is lovely. But I'm a sucker for clicky-clacky music.
September 1, 2008
Can't decide what's cooler -- Google Chrome or the fact that they had Scott MccCloud make an explainer comic book for it.
Yeah, probably the comic book.
Update: Whoops, no, it's Chrome. This thing is beautiful.
August 30, 2008
If you haven't already, definitely check out Josh Marshall's recently [re?]posted interview with Joe Biden from summer '04. Fascinating. A snippet, from when Biden describes meeting Qaddafi shortly after the announcement of the dismantlement deal:
I said, "Yeah, why, why the change of heart?" And he says, "The real question is" -- through an interpreter -- "The real question is, why did we get off this way, why did you sanction me in the first place?"
I looked at him and said, "That's easy. You're a terrorist." I didn't mince, I said, "You are a terrorist." I said, you know I leaned to him and said, "You've engaged in supporting terrorists. Matter of fact, you blew up 35 of the kids who went to my alma mater along with another hundred or so people. You're a terrorist, that's why."
He sits there and he goes like this, he goes, "That's logical." (laughs) I mean the guy was great! And I said, "So, Okay. Tell me why." And he went, Well -- I'm paraphrasing -- "Nuclear weapons didn't help you very much in Vietnam, they didn't help you in Iraq and if I ever used them you'd blow me away."
August 27, 2008
Numa Numa Rihanna
Well, I got my first story onto Current:News. I'm not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed of the fact that it was about Rihanna covering the Numa Numa song. (Click the pink "play this story" bar to check out the TV version!)
August 26, 2008
Shockwave Traffic Jams
Here's the setup:
- You're one of 20 or so cars driving around in a perfect circle.
- No seriously, it's a perfect circle.
- So your only job is to follow the car in front of you.
- And keep your speed at around 20 miles per hour.
The result? You guessed it: traffic jams!
Check out the video evidence.
And apparently this experiment corresponds to real-world observation in at least one important way: In both cases, the "shockwave" of slow-down propagates back through cars at around 12 miles per hour. It's pretty mesmerizing to watch.
Thanks, Mathematical Society of Traffic Flow!
An Evening with Rthrtha
Check out this fun, cut-and-paste-y music video. Give it a bit to warm up; it gets exponentially better as it goes.
I love the bats.
The song is from a group called Octopus Project -- sort of Ratatat times Pinback minus vocals. Actually, never mind, that makes no sense. I'm going to stop trying to describe music.
Bonus: Behind-the-scenes stills! Oh man that looks fun.
(Via Ted R.)
August 25, 2008
Matt Bai Talks Up The Argument
August 24, 2008
Richard Just's lengthy explanation of why Darfur is still engulfed in genocide five years after it caught the world's attention is the most spellbinding, heartrending thing I've read in quite a bit. A surprising brew of circumstances have paralyzed us from stopping this tragedy, departing from the Problem from Hell template in a few key particulars. Do take a look.
NYT Discovers Linkblogging
August 22, 2008
Buildings and Their Not-So-Secret Identities
The Walker Art Center recently concluded a spectacular exhibit called "Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes" (they've helpfully catalogued the whole exhibit in a wiki; oh Walker, how I love you). Among the highlights of the exhibit was this photo collection by Paho Mann, images of former Circle K convenience stores that have been transformed into other types of businesses -- tattoo parlors, Mexican restaurants, tuxedo rental places -- all taken from the same distance in similar light, all bearing the Circle K's suprisingly distinct form. (Also available as a Google Maps mashup, natch.)
I mentioned this to an architect friend, and he pointed me to the delightful NotFoolingAnybody.com: "a chronicle of bad conversions and storefronts past" -- photos of former chain restaurants lightly altered to house new businesses. (Such as "China Hut," the bastard offspring of -- what else? -- Pizza Hut.)
OMG I love the Web sometimes.
August 21, 2008
Q: You like sex? You are a person who likes the sex acts that we are currently engaged in?(Via this awesome thread. See also: "I am never really going to close the dork tag.")
A: Yes! I am! I like sex!
Q: You like sex! In fact, you are a person who likes sex as much as a prostitute likes sex!
A: YES I LIKE SEXY SEX AS IF IT WERE MY PROFESSION!! TELL ME MORE ABOUT IT
Q: YOU ENJOY THIS ACT YOU SEXY SEX PERSON etc.
August 19, 2008
Back to the Pleasant Peninsula
On vacation in Michigan for the next five day. You know what I'm gonna do? Not blog.
I hear there's another guy who hangs around here... maybe you can lure him out in the comments.
See you on Monday!
August 18, 2008
Socratic Dialogue as Journalistic Format
You know what we need more of? Socratic dialogues! Totally not kidding. It's such a natural, effective way to explore an argument. (This one's about the Obama campaign, by Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder.)
August 15, 2008
How Is YouTube Not the Greatest Art Project Ever?
The question just occurred to me: How is YouTube not the greatest art project ever?
Imagine a slightly parallel dimension where Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim aren't web engineers from Silicon Valley but instead art scenesters from New York. They know the language of the art world; they know how to present work in that context.
But they also have tech chops -- NYU ITP grads, say -- so their project isn't a painting or an avante-garde video but a web app. It's a platform, a system.
And that project grows into YouTube -- one of the craziest, most kaleidoscopic reflections of humanity we've ever seen. It's beautiful. It totally encapsulates and embodies the spirit of the age. And, in our parallel dimension, as the YouTube guys struggle with servers and scalability, they're also submitting it to juried shows and, I don't know, biennials or whatever. They are framing it.
Isn't that high art? Isn't that incredibly successful, important art?
Now, forget the commercial objection, because for years YouTube didn't run a single ad. And let's push our parallel dimension even further and say that Google signs on not as the project's acquirer but as its patron. The Medici of Mountain View!
Am I missing some foundational idea or definition here? I don't actually know anything about art (though I will admit I am in this frame of mind b/c I just strolled through SFMOMA yesterday) -- what would the knee-jerk art-scholar reaction be?
And what do you think?
Imperial Fleet Week
Oh, and if you're in San Francisco this weekend, don't forget to check out Imperial Fleet Week. Last year's was awesome. Even though the AT-ATs always trip over the MUNI lines...
The Dark Knight, Age Nine
Meta-media is the new media! This swede of the Dark Knight trailer acted out by kids is both a funny, charming homage and some sort of biting commentary. (Or maybe I just want it to be biting commentary?)
August 14, 2008
Wow wow wow. Check out this demo of some crazy video algorithms. I can't even quite find words for what this team is up to... but it's pretty astounding. Watch all the way through, because there are a bunch of different techniques demoed, and they get better and better.
Ah, the mythic confluence of all things nerdy: Random House is publishing a book called Bat-Manga, edited by Chip Kidd (of course). Here's the story:
[T]he book features Batman and Robin as you've never seen them before -- in original Japanese stories from 1966 and 1967, written and drawn by Manga master Jiro Kuwata, creator of 8-Man! -- collected and translated for the very first time, over forty years after they originally appeared.
UnbeLIEVable. Why was I not told of this sooner?
Coming Soon: coolness.snarkmarket.com
I like this map of famous trips throughout history from GOOD magazine... but what I like even better is their subdomain for special projects: awesome.goodmagazine.com!
August 13, 2008
Sigur Ros @ MOMA
I've been remiss in not posting this 'til now: Sigur Ros performs live at MOMA, on Current. Honestly, I didn't realize they could create those sounds outside of a studio. Beautiful.
August 12, 2008
Ahh, the eternal lure of architecture and planning, if only because you get to make little models like this. At first I was turned off -- all those houses look the same! Blech! -- but then I started to think about how it would actually get implemented, and how it would actually feel. And then the geometry of the streets really caught me -- totally regular, but not just a boring grid. I'm into it. You?
(Via City of Sound's links.)
What the news media often neglect in their coverage of the candidates is attention to their underlying governing philosophies. I think these provide a much more accurate guide to their behavior in office than their tendency to make shifts on small-bore, particular issues.
For all the media hullabaloo around "flip-flopping" in the Bush/Kerry election, we would have had a much keener idea of President Bush's flavor of governance had the media focused our attention on the core philosophies animating his team of advisers. Bush's reliance on and deference to those advisers, their belief in the unitary executive, their dogged insistence on loyalty über alles, their neoconservative interventionism -- all of these things could have been foreseen from what we knew in the run-up to the 2000 election. And it's those facts that would have given us a much, much clearer picture of how the Bush administration would administer its departments, how it would respond to events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, a housing bust, etc.
Just take a look at one of Bush's most-cited statements since 2001, presaged in this January 2000 profile of Karl Rove by Frank Bruni: "'Anybody who gets in the way of his ambitions for the governor gets run off,' said Tom Pauken, a former chairman of the Republican Party in Texas. 'And if you're not with Karl 100 percent, you're an enemy.'"
I want to hear much, much less about flip-flops. Off-shore drilling, for all the ink given to it in the past two weeks, is an infinitesimal mote in the array of decisions and compromises #44 will have to navigate. Don't tell me what minor issues a candidate has shifted positions on, tell me what core philosophies the candidate has been consistent about, what common threads of thought weave through his speeches, his actions, and the minds of his advisers. That will give me a much clearer sense of how he'll govern.
August 11, 2008
Attention San Francisco snarkmatrix:
Come to this Creative Commons Salon on Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. I'll be talking about Current and the fuuuture of video!
August 10, 2008
"This Article Documents Ongoing Warfare"
Holy jeez. The Wikipedia 2008 South Ossetia War entry is nuts! Look at that table on the right!
August 7, 2008
The Power of Naaature
Slow-motion video of lightning: YA-ZOW!!
Funny how lightning -- the real deal, the big stroke, the mighty discharge -- doesn't actually go from the sky to the ground; instead it's our earthly assault on the heavens above!
August 6, 2008
Current HQ Tour
Ever wonder what my office is like?
Too bad. Watch this anyway.
August 5, 2008
Tales of the Gulag Archipelago
Wow. Thanks to the way technology and communications have changed, this is an experience no one will really ever be able to have again:
Although more than three decades have now passed since the winter of 1974, when unbound, hand-typed, samizdat manuscripts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago first began circulating around what used to be the Soviet Union, the emotions they stirred remain today. Usually, readers were given only 24 hours to finish the lengthy manuscript -- the first historical account of the Soviet concentration camp system -- before it had to be passed on to the next person. That meant spending an entire day and a whole night absorbed in Solzhenitsyn's sometimes eloquent, sometimes angry prose -- not an experience anyone was likely to forget.
Amazing. Gotta quote the next graf too:
Members of that first generation of readers remember who gave the book to them, who else knew about it, and to whom they passed it on. They remember the stories that affected them most -- the tales of small children in the camps, or of informers, or of camp guards. They remember what the book felt like -- the blurry, mimeographed text, the dog-eared paper, the dim glow of the lamp switched on late at night -- and with whom they later discussed it.
Now that is social media. Reading those two grafs alone just gave me shivers.
McCain Green Screen Challenge
Man, I always wondered: Who actually enters these Colbert Report green-screen challenges? Who are the special effects ninjas walking secretly among us?
Now I know -- it's my friend Scot!
Hee hee. It's really good.
August 3, 2008
When I think of / remember something embarrassing from my life, I compulsively make some kind of noise. It seems to happen unconsciously, before my censor can catch it and stop myself (it even happens when I am in a quiet or inappropriate place). It's not especially loud, in fact it's often under my breath. The sound is usually just a quiet grunt, or a word/syllable or two. ... It usually only happens when I'm remembering something palpably embarrassing or humiliating from my life -- not for mild everyday kind of stuff. ... So what is this, do I have some kind of low-grade tourette's syndrome? Is there a name for this phenomenon? Does it happen to others or is it unique to me?This happens to me sporadically, and from the dozens of responses on Ask MeFi, it's not uncommon.
Obvs the Large Hadron Collider as depicted on The Big Picture is mind-blowing, but don't miss the Heliotron, either.
August 2, 2008
What Startups Can Learn from Haruki Murakami
(Okay okay, so it's not actually that mind-blowing a post... I just liked the unexpected reference. Not a lot of modern literary fiction on TechCrunch, ya know?)
Boring Boring Boring Glorious Boring Boring
Ugh. Enjoyed this long NYT piece on the swimmer Michael Phelps, but man, every time I read about Olympic training -- or any super-high-level athletic training -- it makes me pity the Olympians. What a monotonous routine. It's like prison -- except maybe you get a gold medal at the end.
August 1, 2008
Donkey Kong As Symbol of Modern Oligarchy
Kottke's plug for the Independent Documentary Association's list of the 25 best documentaries reminds me to recommend one that was underhyped last year -- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I like Keith Phipps' perceptive review best; he calls it "a film about what it takes to make it in America." It's hilarious, a bit sad, and enormously revealing.
July 31, 2008
Life: Rich with Metaphor
Some anglerfishes of the superfamily Ceratiidae employ an unusual mating method. Because individuals are presumably locally rare and encounters doubly so, finding a mate is problematic. When scientists first started capturing ceratioid anglerfish, they noticed that all of the specimens were females. These individuals were a few inches in size and almost all of them had what appeared to be parasites attached to them. It turned out that these "parasites" were the remains of male ceratioids.
At birth, male ceratioids are already equipped with extremely well developed olfactory organs that detect scents in the water. When it is mature, the male's digestive system degenerates, making him incapable of feeding independently, which necessitates his quickly finding a female anglerfish to prevent his death. The sensitive olfactory organs help the male to detect the pheromones that signal the proximity of a female anglerfish. When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then atrophies into nothing more than a pair of gonads, which release sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream indicating egg release. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that, when the female is ready to spawn, she has a mate immediately available.
July 30, 2008
The Night They Clubbed the Deer
I'm not sure why this Texas Monthly story is so unsettling. The story itself is simple -- four high-school football stars, out goofing off one Friday night, capture and brutally slaughter two deer.
The characters are (for the most part) sympathetic, and aside from a possibly-superfluous Lord of the Flies reference, the author doesn't really stoke the drama at all. It might be the notion that four decent kids can do some completely inexplicable, violent thing, just out-of-the-blue. Or it might be the sensation of looking in on a place usually so far removed from the gaze of the world.
July 29, 2008
Ticket to Ride
Snarkpal Chris Fong writes up some excellent board games on SFGate. If you haven't tried "Ticket to Ride," you're missing out; it's fun for nerds, jocks, and burnouts alike.
July 28, 2008
In Search of Shadows
Over in The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz writes about the disadvantages of the elite education as commonly experienced today:
What happens when busyness and sociability leave no room for solitude? The ability to engage in introspection, I put it to my students that day, is the essential precondition for living an intellectual life, and the essential precondition for introspection is solitude.
It's a nicely-written piece, especially in the beginning.
One of Michigan State's signature songs goes, "MSU, we love thy shadows" -- and what a wonderful (if counterintuitive) thing to celebrate about a school: the shadows, the quiet spaces, the free afternoons, the empty paths.
July 27, 2008
July 26, 2008
I had no idea that Kevin Kelly told the first story ever on This American Life. (Read about it in this article.) Probs shouldn't be a surprise. All good things in the world are linked, you know -- it's a massive spiderweb of coolness.
July 23, 2008
'Basically an Intelligence-Gathering Operation'
I am a huge fan of Amanda Michel and Off the Bus. Nice to see her (and it) get written up in the NYT!
July 21, 2008
Physical Theories as Women
Ah, here's McSweeney's with a piece for the xkcd crowd:
0. Newtonian gravity is your high-school girlfriend. As your first encounter with physics, she's amazing. You will never forget Newtonian gravity, even if you're not in touch very much anymore.
1. Electrodynamics is your college girlfriend. Pretty complex, you probably won't date long enough to really understand her.
What I want to know is... which girl is the theory of luminiferous ether?
July 18, 2008
This is Officially the Opposite of Mortal Kombat
Jenova Chen and company get credit for their simple, intuitive gameplay mechanics -- but honestly, to me it's all about the audio. Their games simply sound better than anything else out there.
July 17, 2008
The New Yorker Can Be Funny!
For some of you, this week's Shouts & Murmurs is the typical bland gimmick repeated ad nauseam. If you're like me, however, it will crack you up.
Quick. Let's come up with a dystopian sci-fi film concept so we can shoot it here.
Franke James has a terrific cross-media comic book style.
July 16, 2008
You Owe The Beatles Your Brain
Super-fun inter-disciplinary trivia: If it weren't for The Beatles, we might not have CAT scans.
The #1 oil-consuming entity in the world is, obviously, the United States.
What's number two?
Robin previously called out Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight for excellent coverage of this campaign season. Now I've gotta lend a hand to the gang at Obsidian Wings, especially Hilary Bok, a.k.a. Hilzoy. It first came to my attention when one of the A-Listers plugged this post about Barack Obama's legislative record. I subscribed, and ever since I've been impressed by the quality of thought, research and analysis there.
Yesterday, for example, Obama and McCain both gave major foreign policy speeches. This generated very typical news coverage and hyper-typical punditry. But it also fortunately generated a typical post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, in which you get the sense that not only did she reserve comment until reading/hearing the speeches in question, but that she understood the deeper mental framework at play behind each speech. She's solidly liberal, but seems to make few assumptions about her audience.
Jobs of the Future
Nice, short interview with Mario Anima, a terrific colleague here at Current.
July 15, 2008
They Are Stars! No, They Are Bugs!
Ahhhh! Jeff Scher's new video on the NYT site is sublime. If you discover a full-screen playback button that I missed... let me know.
It's the Ecosystem, Stupid
Enjoyed the new post from Umair Haque about corporate strategy. Here's the salient bit:
Perhaps the meaning of competitive advantage, when all the games have been played and the gears of the economic machine have finally stopped moving, is this: privatize benefits and socialize costs.
That might have been sustainable in a disconnected, asset-heavy industrial economy. But it cannot hold in a hyperconnected edgeconomy. When all of us can trade ten billion times a day, if everyone's simply trying to claim benefits from everyone else, while shifting costs and risks to everyone else, the result is economic implosion.
One of the big deficits implicit in Umair's critique is long-term thinking. This is almost a cliche by now -- the tyranny of quarterly earnings statements, etc., etc. -- but that doesn't make it any less true. Zero-sum strategy gets a quicker return, and often, it feels more like progress. Non-zero-sum strategy takes longer, feels riskier -- because you see other people growing too! Jeez! Are they winning? Why aren't we winning? -- but pays out better for everybody in the end.
So the question (which I have not even a single speculative answer to) is: How could we craft markets to better reward long-term, non-zero-sum strategy?
Wordwright with the five things that make Batman Batman. His list does not describe all past Batmans: just the good ones.
P.S. In Minneapolis, we saw The Dark Knight being advertised on the side of a Landmark theater. That's right: This movie is simultaneously a summer IMAX blockbuster and an art-house flick. Awesome.
July 12, 2008
I am in Minneapolis, in Matt's apartment. We are listening to Bon Iver. And talking about you.
Photographic evidence of Snarkfestival 2008 to follow.
July 10, 2008
New Kinds of Content
For the last several months I've been obsessed with the idea of whole new kinds of content. We think of text, audio, and video as these sort of basic, irreducible formats -- the very elements of media. But that can't be right. We're still just imitating old, linear forms.
That's why I love Kevin Kelly's concept of vizuality; it points the way towards a new video that's somehow native to the web.
It's still totally abstract at this point; I don't even really know what that means.
But I do know that it bugs me when people talk about "content" as if it's this static substance, fungible and unchanging, as Jeff Jarvis and many of his commenters do here. I left a comment of my own saying as much:
I'd argue that it's deeply old-fashioned to think of newspapers as purveyors of blobs of text, and maybe some video to go along with it, that you can just stick into any ol' CMS system. In fact, I’d say that if, as a news organization, your content fits into any ol' CMS then it’s a warning sign.
Seen any new kinds of content out there lately? Any clues, or pointers in the right direction?
July 7, 2008
What do we look like?
Electorally, like this.
Linguistically, like this. (It's not red vs. blue America, folks. It's pop vs. soda America. [Coke is another country.])
(Got the religion link from the just-relaunched Interactive Narratives. Aaand there goes the evening.)
Update: I pointed to the wrong version of the religion link! Click it again -- it's even crazier now.
The soundtrack to my life for the past couple of weeks has been "Gobbledigook" from Sigur Ros's new album. You can download it here. Skip the naked-fawns-frolicking video.
Fun fact: Who coined the term "gobbledygook"? None other than Maury Maverick, U.S. Representative and grandson of Sam Maverick, from whom the term "maverick" originated. Now that is a neologistic family.
Head for the Black Diamond
Smart, informative post over on the Transportation Security Administration's blog (I know!) about the new "Diamond Lane Program" that lets travelers self-select into three groups: green (for beginners and families), blue (for intermediate travelers), and black (for road warriors).
I've been through this a few times at different airports and it actually seems to work really well!
I feel like it ought to be a case study in design school, actually: Given the problem, you immediately assume the solution must have something to do with faster machines, or better-trained employees, or lasers or something. And those things might help -- but flipping the script and simply changing the inputs helps a lot, too. Seriously counter-intuitive.
Props to TSA for some good design and public communication to match.
July 3, 2008
Heartfelt Product Endorsement
I love Jott.
Sign up for a free account, give it your email address, and you can call an 800-number anytime, talk into the phone, and have your words instantly converted to text and emailed back to you.
(You can have it sent other places as well, of course -- texted to phone numbers, emailed to other addresses, even posted to Twitter or whatever -- but I use it exclusively for notes-to-self.)
I know, I know, this feels like the kind of thing that sounds great in theory but is somehow fatally flawed in practice. In fact it's great in practice, too -- Jott's voice-recognition software is uncanny.
Highly recommended. Will make you feel like you're living a couple of years in the future.
July 1, 2008
Ze Frank at the Helm
A while ago Ze Frank posted an offer on his blog: Give me your Facebook credentials, tell me a little bit about yourself, and I'll impersonate you for a week.
Obvs lots of people thought this sounded awesome.
One of them was a girl named Christine, who's now documented the experience. Ze didn't do anything crazy -- just sort of poked around, it seems -- but I love love love Christine's final analysis:
and finally, you should know that the week i had off from facebook was probably one of my best weeks in recent memory. i know it sounds absurd, but not being able to spend hours trolling facebook (during work, on my iphone, at home while watching a movie/tv show/talking to my roommates, before i dozed off to bed) left me with so much time to… read. think. run. write. do nothing. etc. in that week, i realized the extent to which i was addicted to this thing - my virtual world of friends and updates and identity molding… things that, during my week off, i didn't MISS, but felt relieved to not have to deal with. when taken away from me, this thing i spent so much time with - my facebook reality (it pains me to have to write thos words) - felt so trivial, meaningless and inconsequential.
Emphasis mine. There's your litmus test, right there. Take it away, and how much does it matter? A lot of the internet -- not all, but a lot -- falls on the lame side of the ledger right now.
I still miss The Show, though.
June 27, 2008
Wow. An excellent, panoramic op-ed by Gary Hart in the NYT. It's about long cycles in American history, and argues we're entering a new one now.
But mostly I just liked his reference to "The Candidate":
Senator Obama has two choices. He can focus on winning the election to the exclusion of all else and, like Robert Redford in "The Candidate," ask "What do we do now?"ť after it is over. Or he can use his campaign as a platform for designing a new political cycle and achieve a mandate for starting it.
You've seen "The Candidate," right? Best political movie ever.
(Via Thomas Goetz.)
Media is Magic
(For some reason this just struck me with force: Media is magic. It's leverage. It's the only possible way -- the only possible way -- for an individual, sans army or vast fortune, to touch the lives of more than a trivial number of people. We in the web-world tend to get a bit desensitized to the scale of our work, but whoah: Tens of thousands of people? Hundreds of thousands? That is a power unknown to generations past -- again, except for the tyrants and tycoons. What good timing on our part!)
(Okay, back to work.)
The War Council
My favorite two pieces in McClatchy's magisterial investigation of Guantanamo Bay -- that is, the pieces that I found most surprising and depressing -- were:
- This piece on the ways in which detention centers became de facto recruitment centers for jihadis.
- This piece on "the War Council" of five lawyers that wrote most of the opinions that cleared the way for all these abuses. Seriously, they called themselves "the War Council."
I've been reading the series on the train in the morning, which I don't recommend, because you spend the rest of the day sorta pissed off.
June 26, 2008
Great note at the bottom of Chris Anderson's latest blog post.
The setup: He's just talked to a guy who runs massive server farms -- the kind that acts as substrate for Amazon's EC2 and similar systems. Many are in Washington and Oregon because of the cheap, clean electricity. The juice is even cheaper and cleaner in Canada... but Mr. Server Farm won't go north of the border:
Why not? Because of political instability. Canada's governments shift from right to left too often, he said, and the threat of regional secession was too real to risk putting multi-hundred-million-dollar data facilities there--between changes in the laws to even the slight risk of nationalization should the wrong person be elected, he thought Canada's political liabilities outweighed its energy assets.
I love that! Because I have officially never thought of Canada as being in any way risky.
June 25, 2008
'Like a Train Hobo With a Chicken Bone'
And he didn't just "do" it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.
June 24, 2008
More Is Different
I quite enjoyed the Wired cover story this month, which begins by arguing that a surfeit of data is rendering the notion of scientific modeling basically obsolete, and continues by walking through several ways in which this phenomenon has manifested itself out in the world. I especially enjoyed this mini-essay about the Europe Media Monitor, which looks like a useful potential news source to scan to see what the world is talking about. You can see, for example, that it identified the pre-election violence in Zimbabwe as the biggest story of the day yesterday, and pulls together reports from all over the global press on the subject.
The Gentleman from Twitter
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is twittering. Like, really twittering:
He's the best thing since the Mars Phoenix!
Monthly Payments on the American Dream
I want to talk about home ownership!
Paul Krugman is back in top form with a column that reminds me why I'm a Krug-fan in the first place.
It's about the huge preference that U.S. policy expresses for home ownership vs. renting. Krugman goes through all the micro-scale concerns -- including a great comparison that likens buying a house to buying stocks on margin -- but then there's an interesting macro-perspective:
Owning a home also ties workers down. Even in the best of times, the costs and hassle of selling one home and buying another -- one estimate put the average cost of a house move at more than $60,000 -- tend to make workers reluctant to go where the jobs are.
So at the societal scale, do strong policy incentives for home ownership create, on the whole, a less mobile workforce? I think that's interesting and worth talking about! On one hand, it's obviously good to support people as they put down roots and become a more permanent part of a community. On the other hand, it's 2008, and the economic map of the U.S. is changing fast!
Very curious about any questions, ideas, rants, links, etc. on home ownership out there. (Living in San Francisco, the issue is entirely academic, so my aim is to live vicariously through the snarkmatrix.)
June 23, 2008
Large Hadron Countdown
June 22, 2008
The Biggest Thing You've Never Heard Of
I'm in Princeton visiting Dan so it's good timing that I just ran across a story about the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) -- the biggest, most important organization you've never heard of.
When we went to Bangladesh back in 2001, it was in part because we were fascinated with the Grameen Bank, a microcredit pioneer that's well-known in the West, in part simply because they have, uh, really good PR.
By the time we left, Grameen had been totally eclipsed in our esteem by BRAC, which does more, for more people, more efficiently, and (importantly) in a much more holistic way than Grameen. BRAC essentially fills the void left by the corruption and confusion of Bangladesh's real government. And remember, this really matters: There are more than 150 million people in Bangladesh!
I'm reminded of it by FP's list of the world's most powerful NGOs: BRAC is one of five listed, along with the Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders. It has an annual budget of half a billion dollars and a staff of 110,000. Wow.
Hey, just 'cause we're in the middle of the longest days of the year doesn't mean you should forget about the moon.
June 19, 2008
Rex, Clay, Rock Stars
But maybe you'll beat me to it...
The State of Investigative Journalism
This strikes me as a well-informed interview with Charles Lewis, "the godfather of non-profit investigative journalism," on efforts to support the form. My favorite nugget, and the one highlighted on other sites that link to this interview, is that Lewis is modeling his new endeavor on the Children's Television Workshop:
"I use the name 'Workshop' because I was always fascinated with the Children’s Television Workshop, which of course incubated Big Bird and 'Sesame Street' and other programming," he said. "I’d like to spawn new models and new entities and make it a friendly atmosphere for entrepreneurialsm — for non-profits, for-profits and hybrids of both. That’s an unusual dimension to this."
June 17, 2008
1. The flooding in the Midwest has been nuts.
2. No better way to experience its nuts-ness than Boston.com's The Big Picture. Just look at those photos! Wow.
I'm starting my next company in Vermont!
(It's a product of the New York Law School's Do Tank, which has the tagline "democracy design workshop." That could not be any cooler.)
June 16, 2008
Oh This Is Just Ridiculous
Insane browsable 3D map of Stockholm made entirely from aerial photos. And here I thought Google Earth had a lock on the gee-whiz-geography category.
Hey, I'm never going to make this, but let me get on the record for coming up with the idea: a simple iPhone 3G app that, using the phone's GPS and accelerometers, lets you snap contributions to a 3D model very similar to this one. You stand on a street corner and firehose your phone around a bit; the photos and camera orientation info get beamed up to some server, reassembled by, um, these guys apparently, and voila: crowdsourced photoreal 3D model of everything.
Thank me later.
Running the 21st Century Campaign
Obsessed with politics all of a sudden. Great panel from a Google/National Journal event if you're interested in the intersection of the internet and campaigning. Joe Rospars from the Obama campaign is (obviously) super-impressive.
Favorite phrase: "digital coattails."
P.S. I know I mentioned it once already, but seriously, if you're not reading Five Thirty-Eight, you need to be. Nate Silver has the coolest, clearest writing voice I've run across in a long time -- which is a special boon given that he's writing about insane multivariate regressions. A++.
June 15, 2008
The Music of News
In one of the many Tim Russert reminiscences circulating this weekend, Isaac Chotiner mentioned the grandiose theme music of Meet the Press, which has always been one of my favorite parts of the show. Naturally, this sent me spiraling deep into the Googleverse, where I was delighted to discover a GeoCities (!) site entitled "Network news music," containing the full themes of network news shows as they evolved over the years.
On the page for NBC, you'll find two versions of the theme for Meet the Press -- movement IV of a symphony entitled "The Mission," which NBC News commissioned from John Williams; the movement is called "The Pulse of Events." Movement I of "The Mission" opens the NBC Nightly News, and the third movement opened the Today Show for several years. Having grown up listening to many of these themes, it's a revelation to hear the motifs that reverberate through all of them when you play them in sequence.
It's finds like these that remind me how much I love the Web.
See also: this analysis of network news music from Slate.
What a neat idea, from Alfonso Serrano by way of Felix Salmon:
Personally, I think this is a really good idea: give every print subscriber one Class B voting share of NYT stock, and then give them one more share every three months thereafter, assuming their subscription is still in good standing. The securities would automatically convert to Class A shares if they were sold or transferred, or if the subscriber let his subscription lapse.
I'm sure there's some SEC craziness that renders this totally implausible, but even so, it's appealing.
(Link via my dad!)
June 14, 2008
Open That Drafty Window
"I try to observe the 42-degree rule," Mr. Furst said, explaining the cutoff temperature for working in the studio. "I've got radiators and an L. L. Bean vest I wear. I think that was the secret of the Romantic poets: they wrote cold."
June 13, 2008
Beyond the Law
For more than six years, the United States has held hundreds of men at Guantanamo — "the worst of the worst," in the words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But the truth was different. McClatchy tracked down 66 men released from Guantanamo in the most systematic survey to date of prisoners held there. Many had no connection to terrorism, but their experience turned them against America.This sounds like it builds on the work done in the masterful This American Life segment "Habeas Schmabeus," which won a 2006 Peabody Award. (And also brought me close to tears. This American Life has done an incredible job of portraying the tragedy of wrongful imprisonment. The episode "Perfect Evidence" just wrecked me.)
June 12, 2008
Intro to U.S. Politics
Yes, I'm about to link directly to a Powerpoint file. I know that's wack. But it's really a fun read (flip?) -- Kennedy School prof David C. King's overview of U.S. political culture, pre-Revolution to present. Good grounding in the structure of government (watch for the budget pie-chart) and the deep roots (and in many ways, deep uniqueness) of our present politics.
Okay it's over.
Here's King's homepage.
How to Pronounce Beijing
Oops. Trying to be a smart-pants -- "bay-zhing" -- I was totally saying it wrong.
House of Leaves
Mpls Meetup: 7/11 Weekend
OK, if we were actually to to do this meetup exactly a month from now in Minneapolis (7/10-7/13), who could make it? I've got a comfy leather couch, a queen-sized aerobed in my spare bedroom (weightroom), floor space for anyone who doesn't mind it, and I might be able to rustle up a friend or two to host some folks as well. I can promise a rip-roaring time, an itinerary packed with culinary and cultural delights, at least one save-the-world-caliber conversation, and lefse.
All I want for Christmas is a solemn promise that no one will ever use the word "cybergenic" unironically again for the rest of my life, please.
June 11, 2008
For all the television news coverage, Americans have the slimmest sense of what the war actually feels and looks like—crumbling deserts, blasted buildings, angry crowds, random firefights. The image of Iraq is flickering and formless. Each year of the war seems like the last, and the patrols and meetings with Iraqis that soldiers conduct every day don’t make for good television ratings. With the exception of Falluja, there have been no memorable battles. The mundane character of counterinsurgency, the fact that journalists have become targets, and the media’s sheer lack of imagination have combined to make this most covered of modern wars one of the least vivid. Iraq is more remote in our consciousness than Vietnam ever was. It has been strangely difficult for Americans even to picture the place. I’ve been asked more times than I can remember, “What does it look like over there?” If you think of World War II or Vietnam, a dozen photographs immediately come to mind. But Iraq has not been a photographer’s war. What are its iconic images? Digital snapshots by military policemen in Abu Ghraib, footage of beheadings posted by jihadis on the Web. There was no shortage of superb photographers taking extraordinary risks in Iraq, and perhaps time will sort from their work a handful of images that will define this war in the same way that, for example, Robert Capa’s photographs of Omaha Beach and Nick Ut’s of children fleeing napalm defined earlier ones. But almost five years into this war, there is only blank space where America’s picture of Iraq should be.
Fiction With An API
Per Henry Jenkins, fiction is best understood as a platform: a system to build on. The thing you build can be as narrow as your own interpretation, or as expansive as fan fiction, fan art, movies, video games, or even physically-realized artifacts from the fictional world.
So one way to judge the success of a story is to look at how much additional creativity it inspires. By this measure, Harry Potter is a modern masterpiece, and Shakespeare is the king of all time. Seems about right to me.
P.S. No, I have never actually finished one of Henry Jenkins' blog posts, either. But the first three to four paragraphs are always super-smart.
June 10, 2008
This new BMW concept car just dropped like a bomb in the auto/tech nerdosphere, and for good reason: It's the kind of thing that, seen once, changes the way you think about cars -- high-tech objects -- forever. I think it's absolutely brilliant, and I want one now.
I mean, come on.
Reminds me of the elegance of canvas stretched over a wing. Maybe that's our future as well as our past?
Mutual Admiration Societies, Etc.
Snarkmarket's got scenius.
If anything made it necessary for Robin to curb his allegiance to the now-deprecated Bloglines RSS reader, it's this. GReader recognizes the immortal Contra cheat code.
Listen, I know Compete's numbers are wack, but even so, this is great.
June 9, 2008
J.K. Rowling at Hogwarts... Er, I Mean Harvard
Aha! Another terrific 2008 commencement speech! This one's from J.K. Rowling:
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
Missed connection: Casper
The Tomb of Icarus
June 8, 2008
Blue States, Red States, Orange Feed Icons
Ooh, my new favorite site, and yours too if the clarity of Obama vs. McCain has re-invigorated your interest in the election. Thx Dan.
June 5, 2008
"I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me,of us,no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to be one with many. Some of these personal microscopic biota are dangerous to the me who is writing this sentence; they are held in check for now by the measures of the coordinated symphony of all the others, human cells and not, that make the conscious me possible. I love that when “I” die, all these benign and dangerous symbionts will take over and use whatever is left of “my” body, if only for a while, since“we” are necessary to one another in real time."
The Rolling Exhibition
Kevin Connolly was born without legs, a fact which causes some folks to stare. (He's also hot, which can't hurt.) He generally gets around on a skateboard, riding close to the street, from which vantage point he often draws stares from curious passers-by. One day, he started taking photos of the spectators. He ended up with 32,000 photos in all, which he's edited into a collection he calls "The Rolling Exhibition."
June 3, 2008
"We divide up the colors among us," said Zeng, working his way briskly along a line of 10 identical contemporary-style paintings, applying a stripe of brown, while a teenage partner worked on the red. Surrounded by dozens more identical pieces at the sprawling Artlover factory, he explained: "By dividing up the work, contrasting colors stay clearest."
June 2, 2008
So, not to completely nerd out on you, but this is neat:
Hard problem: This whole "cloud computing" thing requires that you be able to communicate in two directions with lots of machines at once: tell them what to do, yes, but also check to see what they're up to, and if they're still running at all.
Fun solution: Why not just treat them all like chat clients and use Jabber?
That's an oversimplification, but I just love the idea of essentially managing a complex computing cluster via glorified IM. Here are the details from Ezra Zygmuntowic.
Put That In Your Easy-Bake Oven and Burn It
"I had corn dogs, chocolate cake and rum for breakfast yesterday. Then I went on a hike, and explored an abandoned mine shaft that I don't think I was supposed to enter. I didn't have to get anyone's permission or tell anyone where I was going. Later, I touched a girl with my penis, and nobody yelled at me or sent me to talk to the councilor about it. I watched a scary movie that had boobies and swears in it, and then I stayed up until 2 AM because I didn't feel like going to bed.
"Childhood has nothing on adulthood. Being a grown-up is an awfully grand adventure." -- My new favorite MeFi commenter
June 1, 2008
What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Sort of a mini-Edge Question over at Wired Science: What does it mean to be human?
I liked Daniel Dennett's answer:
We are the first species that represents our reasons, and can reason with each other. "The planet has grown a nervous system," he said.
That's a nice twist on the usual (to my mind, pretty fluffy) gaia-talk. Language is important because it's an interconnect. Earth has supported nodes for a long time: bacteria, fish, dinosaurs, dragonflies, all that. But humans (and other smart species, like chimps and dolphins) introduce edges for the first time -- connections -- so suddenly larger patterns can start to form.
It's just math!
May 31, 2008
Responsibility to Protect
Good, short piece by David Rieff in the NYT about the urge to intervene -- and the fact that we never actually do.
Any other good references/readings on this out there?
May 30, 2008
Nico Nico Douga
My mind is being blown in real-time.
Nico Nico Douga is sort of a Japanese YouTube, except it has a weird extra feature: You can write comments in real-time over the video. Hard to imagine; easier to see. Just watch the second video on this page (the one after the YouTube video) for a second.
Why is this interesting? Two reasons:
- Video is still so immature, and still changing so fast. Kevin Kelly thinks text is actually a big part of its future -- a sort of reunion of long-estranged formats, thanks mostly to computers and high-resolution screens. I agree, and Nico Nico Douga is a (spastic) data point in that direction.
- The web is so not a global village. It's totally compartmentalized by region and, especially, by language. So it's cool to get a guided tour of something that would otherwise be incomprehensible or, worse, invisible.
I still have no idea what to make of this site. I'm almost afraid to click around. Any thoughts/reactions?
(Via the wax.)
Update: Great Wired article on the site's founder.
May 29, 2008
Now That's a Good-Lookin' Web Page
Pardon the a) Current promotion, and b) super-extreme-nerdiness, but I think our redesigned "item page" is awesome. This is not normally the kind of thing I get that excited about, but man, I just think this is a really, really good web page.
Nice work, Naber.
Note especially: the "playlist" of related stuff on the left; the cool hot pink tab for the "TV-ified" version of the item; and the inline media in the comments!
Where Do Hits Happen Now?
Now granted, this is "the new single from Motley Crue," which I'm pretty sure no one was waiting for un-ironically.
But still, totally love it. Video games are the new movie soundtracks are the new albums.
May 28, 2008
Samantha Power's Commencement Address
As you know, the graduation speech is my favorite of all forms. Samantha Power did a nice job at Pitzer this year; in particular I like exhortations one and two.
This bit is great:
Instead, I'm encouraging you, class of 2008, to focus on the next thing, and take some of the pressure off finding the eventual thing. Emphasize the substance of what you will learn, not the status of what you will be called. Ask yourself, "What will I take away from this? Will I learn a new skill? A new town? A new mindset?" Put one foot in front of the other for as long as you can afford to, rather than trying to map your way to the winner's platform.
See any other good graduation speeches out there this season?
May 27, 2008
Media Is Singular
I totally agree with Jeff Jarvis. And I like the fact that it's a bit of a political definition, just like when Wired made "internet" lowercase -- more "water" than "CompuServe."
The Accelerator and the Grid
You know, the other crazy project at CERN might be the one that really changes the world.
(Okay probably not, but I always like to keep track of new
clouds miasmas brewing on the horizon.)
Aghh I've been reading some awesome stuff lately but no time to blog it all up. Check this out -- Nick Carr on miasma (not cloud) computing and the funny way we think about the internet:
The metaphor of "the cloud" seems to have been derived from those schematic drawings of corporate computing systems that use stylized images of clouds to represent the Internet - that vast, ill-defined digital mass that lies beyond the firewall. Those drawings always reminded me of the ancient maps of the known world, the edges of which were marked with the legend "Beyond Here There Be Dragons."
Over the weekend I finally switched my site over to Slicehost and I have to say, I enjoyed being forced to understand how it all really works. Turns out the web is really just a bunch of stressed-out, poorly-configured applications waiting for you to send them special messages indicating you want them to get something off a disk for you! And words like "prefork" are involved.
May 21, 2008
Over at vita.mn, I'm ranting about how the practice of settling the tab at restaurants is woefully broken. It's launched me on a campaign to demand separate checks whenever dining with a group. Thought this was worthy of the Snarkmarket hive mind. Do you have any foolproof systems for handling checks that must be split? Are there any establishments you've been to that deal with this ingeniously?
May 20, 2008
May 19, 2008
To the Capitol, and Step On It
(It's an important consideration: Forget about what your building looks like from the sky. What does it look like from the inside of a cab on a rainy night?)
Penguin's Killing It
Penguin Books UK is doing such a terrific job with the web.
Their We Tell Stories project was novel and interesting -- and made me actually buy a book (no joke).
Their blog is excellent, too. For instance, this post about the new editions of the James Bond books is media-rich and full of nerdy detail -- a far cry from a press release. And check out this presentation on interesting typography in books.
Great, great stuff. A+.
May 18, 2008
Some Things You Can't Control
Howard Weaver writes a great post at Etaoin Shrdlu about newspapers, technological change, and... Microsoft.
There's a point latent in his piece that I'd amplify: Lots of things -- maybe even most things -- happen by accident, and totally despite your plans or wishes. Even if you're super-smart. Even if you have an MBA.
MBA thinking wants everything to be quantifiable and controllable. Analysis, strategy, execution. Build your model right and you can do anything. But that mode of thinking grew up in a more static, cordoned-off industrial world, and it simply doesn't work anymore. (Or maybe it never really did?)
That's why I've been digging this book lately, and why I want MBAs to start taking classes like "stochastic scenarios" and "ten prototypes in ten weeks."