December 24, 2007
Merry Christmas, Nerds
Peter's right -- we're all nerds here. So here is a late-night Christmas Eve post brimming over with nerd-osity. (Like the White House, I try to sneak the embarrassing stuff out while everybody's on vacation.)
- The New York Times is developing and releasing Ruby libraries on the side. That is such a great sign. Bravo.
- Slicehost is the hosting company of my dreams: $20 a month for a virtual machine running Ubuntu Linux and that's it. You have full root access and can do absolutely anything you want with it.
- I went ahead and learned Ruby on Rails a while ago, and liked the idea, but couldn't shake this sense that it was just way too big and complex for everything I wanted to do. Enter Merb, which is like Rails lite: Same approach, same access to awesome Ruby resources (like the NYT's new gem), but much smaller and faster. It's like carrying around a wallet instead of one of those huge camping backpacks.
- Merb lets you plug in the ORM of your choice, and I found DataMapper a lot more intuitive and "right-seeming" than ActiveRecord (the Rails default).
Okay, I think I actually blew out my own nerd-fuse on that last one. See you in 2008!
December 23, 2007
Uncle Zip Is Leaving the Building
Now it looks like his blog is winding down; go enjoy it while you still can, and poke around in the archives. I liked his posts on worldbuilding in fantasy and science fiction. But best of all is this, which has a bit of commencement in it, you know?
December 21, 2007
This Ask MetaFilter post from two years ago is like a short story unfolding in real time. I found the whole thing oddly moving -- the initial account of what happened, the swelling chorus of encouragement from other users (each ostensibly nursing a silent grief of her own), and the resolution. For me, it echoed again this passage from Roth. Getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.
December 20, 2007
Feed the Feed Reader
Update: In retrospect I regret foisting the phrase "my OPML file just picked up some new nodes" on you. What kind of blog do I think this is? Sorry, non-nerds.
Over the past year, I have successfully acquired five Wiis at retail price; I felt this was notable enough for a blog post.
Wii #1: Purchased 11/06, for a vita.mn contest. Camped out in front of a Target in beautiful Red Wing, MN, at 4:45 a.m., behind Jan, Peter, Elaine, Philip and Sam, in front of a group of about 50. When we finally got the golden tickets (to come back and get a Wii), me and four of the others went to Denny's while we waited for the store to open.
Wiis #2 & 3: Got a call one random Sunday afternoon in August from my coworker's boyfriend, who saw some Wiis sitting on a shelf at Target. Drove to Target, picked up one for me and one for my nephews/niece.
Wiis #4 & 5: Purchased from Amazon mere seconds after receiving text messages from WiiAlerts.com. One is for a vita.mn contest, the other is for a friend's wife to give to a friend for Christmas. Big ups to WiiAlerts; it totally works.
December 19, 2007
Craters, Transits, and Two Galaxies' Embrace
Ooh, wow: This astronomy blog's top 10 images of 2007 are remarkable for their beauty and their variety. Seriously -- a well-curated list.
I can't imagine a nicer birthday present from Kottke. :-)
Do You Have What It Takes to Stand Up to the Cylons?
Available soon: Battlestar Galactica propaganda posters. I love it that even expressions of over-the-top fandom are getting ironic these days.
December 18, 2007
Behold, the Death Star Galaxy
To whet your appetite: the death star galaxy!
Also, I've been reading a terrific new science fiction novel (that I will post about, but not yet), and of course it includes interstellar travel (at physically-plausible sub-light speeds, natch), colonization, etc. Every time I get into this stuff again I feel tiny, but in the best possible way.
December 13, 2007
Gladwell on Genius
Saw Malcolm Gladwell at the 92nd Street Y on Monday. It was pretty much the New Yorker-iest thing ever. 92Y.org has the key clip. (Note the interlocutor! It's the guy from Radio Lab!) Via Rex, who invited me, which is way meta.
December 12, 2007
Let's Take a Course
Whoah -- who wants to go through a Yale course together? They're super well-organized and -presented -- better than MIT's OpenCourseWare, although there are far, far fewer Yale courses.
Any interest? It could be like an extended, intermittent Snarkseminar...
December 11, 2007
Down is Just the Bottom of the Page
Jan von Holleben creates images of gravity-defying joy using, er, the ground:
Don't miss this one. Or this one! And, it's not as clever, but I could not possibly like this series any more than I do.
(Via A Photo Editor.)
December 10, 2007
Needed: a term for when your phone makes calls to random entries in my address book on its own volition, usually as a byproduct of unintentional button-mashing. Somehow, my phone intuits the romance/dating-related entries and goes straight for them. It's particularly enamored of one of my exes, which can be awkward. But not as awkward as the time it sent a discouraged suitor of mine five copies of a text message to a friend describing what I was going to wear that night.
I understand that keyboard lock (and probably looser jeans) would mostly solve this problem. But until I decide whether those are sacrifices I'm willing to make, I need something to describe this phenomenon. Ghost-dialing?
The Standing Stone
December 7, 2007
"The iPod Moment"
The Kindle/iPod comparison keeps coming up, usually in service of the point, "Amazon, don't flatter yourself." Which I think is fair. But in reading all this talk about the "iPod moment" for books, I feel as though I have a completely different notion of what that moment meant for music. Sure, on the face of it, Apple's innovation was a tiny-but-capacious music player that allowed us to carry our music library everywhere we wanted. But wasn't the deeper surprise/lesson of the iPod that Apple had essentially invented a need where none had formerly existed?
When I remember 2001, I remember Apple launching a device that garnered some admiration for its technical savvy, but whose price and function drew something of a raised eyebrow from critics. "'Breakthrough digital device' might be pushing it," wrote David Pogue, in his review of the first iPod. ("Apple, don't flatter yourself.") Meanwhile, the first New York Times mention of the device was hardly breathless. The article quoted three people. The first was a Gartner analyst, who said, "It's a nice feature for Macintosh users ... but to the rest of the Windows world, it doesn't make any difference.'' The second was Steve Jobs, who was paraphrased as "disputing the concern that the market was limited, and said the company might have trouble meeting holiday demand. He predicted that the improvement in technology he said the iPod represented would inspire consumers to buy Macintosh computers so they could use an iPod." The RIAA declined to comment, and another analyst simply said, ''This raises the bar." The one actual description of the iPod in the article called it a "hybrid of existing products." The article included an estimate that the size of the market for all digital music devices would be 18 million units by 2005.
I remember this muted enthusiasm pretty clearly because I was one of the skeptics. What could be so impressive about a portable music player? The Walkman's been around almost as long as I have. Storage size? Honestly? What need could I possibly ever have to carry my whole music library around with me? How much music can I lsten to at one time?
32 million iPods were sold in 2005. That's not even counting other digital music devices. This year, the 100-millionth iPod was sold. Clearly there was a market need here for a vast mobile music library that most of us were blind to in 2001.
I now have three iPods.
When folks talk about Kindle doing (or not doing) for books what the iPod did for music, they usually seem to mean creating a tiny-but-capacious e-book reader that allows us to carry our library everywhere we want. But I don't think Bezos et al. are aiming at that at all. I suspect they're trying to create something we didn't know we needed. A leap of imagination so bold, it could only seem obvious in hindsight. Jury's still out on whether or not they succeeded.* But I'm wonderfully excited by the possibility that I could one day encounter something that just transforms my notion of what a book can be.
* Personally, I felt for the Kindle the murmur of a tug I hadn't yet felt for any other digital reading devices, although not strong enough to win me over.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Technosnark
Tonight the Streets Are Ours
Just returned from a concert I've been on tiptoes for all week: Richard Hawley, at one of Minneapolis' most intimate, acoustically divine little bars. And it was just perfect. The impeccable, impossible clarity of Hawley's baritone surrounded everything in the room. And each of his songs is a gem. The tiny crowd lapped up every moment of the performance. To the SF folks, he's coming your way in five days. Highly recommended for a chill night out.
December 6, 2007
We've Got Your Number, Europe
Insane line-up of statistical maps of Europe. Note in particular the maps of hair color and eye color. Also, on the ethnicity map, I'm sort of intrigued by that stub of Celtic-ness in northern Spain and Portugal...
While I've Been Out ...
Reader-diners know the pain of trying to balance a thick book and a meal without losing your page or spilling food. As a regular lunchtime reader, I went searching online for a tool that would allow for comfortable hands-free reading -- and eureka! Cleverly designed, this diminutive device is replete with intelligent features: a little pull-out stand supports the book, two sturdy clips hold the pages in place, a pair of pull-out legs holds the book upright on a table. Best of all, spring-loaded page holders on either end make for simple page-turning without the need for repositioning the text; you just grip both holders with one hand and squeeze. I've used the BookGem with a variety of types of books -- everything from thick hardcovers to slim-ish paperbacks -- and it's adapted marvelously. And because it folds down to a pocket-size rectangle, I can easily tuck it in with my book wherever I go.One note: the most ingenious design feature is not the spring-loaded page clips, it's that each of these clips features a little plastic nubbin, behind which you can slip about 10 or 15 pages for easy turning. Am I this guy yet?
December 5, 2007
City of Lost Books
BLDGBLOG's post on book warehousing could not possibly be more evocative and interesting. (He is a master of, among other things, slipping terrific photos into the flow of his text just so.)
But, don't miss the comments either. Autoautism writes:
I had the pleasure of working on the design for a storage library for Stanford a few years back. Three things that I still remember from that experience:
1. Books are placed in quarantine before being allowed into the storage area. Dust mites and other pests love book bindings and you have to make sure your incoming books won't infect the neighbors.
2. If there is a fire, they douse the books in water, and then freeze-dry them back to keep the paper from getting ruined.
3. Books in storage libraries are cataloged in the order that they are received-- the first book in the door is book #1, and so on. Without a very detailed and cross-indexed database, the books would be impossible to find (just like the ark?)
What a world!
After You're Done With Persepolis, Try These
I love the comic/art/sketch blog Drawn -- what's up with the .ca domain, though? -- so I am paying special attention to this favorite comics and art books of 2007 post. Lots of stuff I'd never heard of.
The Sterile Perfection of Legoland
Not to profile myself or anything, but I am loving Lev Grossman's nerd-culture blog at TIME.com. Case in point: His short post on the pleasing purity of Legoland. Love this bit:
Ultimately, the world of Lego is a world of total order. No, not a world. Worlds are messy and unpredictable. A SYSTEM. A system so organized, so well-thought out, so simple-yet-ingenious, so meticulous, so well-made, that, by comparison, real life is a lumbering, smelly Brobdingnagian doofus. Finally, a totalitarian society that works! The acrylonitrile butadiene styrene Lego elements (Master Builders call Lego pieces "elements") last forever. Pieces, I mean, elements made in 1963 still connect with those made today.
Also -- mini-spoiler-alert, maybe? -- he has a report on the first six minutes of The Dark Knight Returns.
Selling Out, Quantified
You know I love pop-culture equations! Here's one from the Washington Post, by way of Current.com: The Moby Quotient. Excellent visual treatment.
December 4, 2007
When Danger Mouse gets stuck on some musical problem, he upends a sandglass. I know many writers who use a similar trick, often with an egg-timer or other kitchen-countdown implement. Very, very useful.
'I Have Plenty to Say About Him'
Major upside to the impending release of The Golden Compass: lots of interviews with Philip Pullman making the rounds! This one is the best I've seen: an extended e-mail interview that goes deep, deeeep into his theology. And of course there's this bit:
[Interviewer]: Your trilogy does an amazing job of interpreting certain aspects of the Old Testament (and the legends surrounding it) quite literally (e.g. Enoch), and it touches on Church history too -- but if memory serves, there is no mention of Jesus as a character in this cosmology. To some readers, this has been a curious gap. Where does he fit into your mythos? Given that the depiction of everything that came before and after Jesus -- God, Enoch, the Church, etc. -- is pretty negative, would Jesus himself have been "bad" somehow? Or, as a "good" person, did he not fit in?
[Pullman]: His omission from HDM was deliberate; I'm going to get around to Jesus in the next book. I have plenty to say about him.
The next book, recall, is going to be called "The Book of Dust," and Pullman has been working on it for many years now.