December 29, 2008
The amazing MIT Media Lab alum John Maeda is the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design. And his first order of business is collecting information:
The collecting began the week he arrived, when he asked 600 high school students attending a summer art program to applaud for the vision of the university that resonated most with them.
"A lifelong education in art and design" got polite applause. "Fostering the next generation of talent" did a little better. Then he suggested: "Building a justifiable case for creativity in our world."
"The response to that -- it was like being Bono in U2," says Maeda. "I began to understand why this calling came."
The chairman of RISD's board of trustees says:
"John said that he believes art and design will inform the 21st century as none other, that RISD has a real role to play in that. The analogy he used was MIT. Before World War II, MIT was a geeky science school. After World War II, with the explosion of science and technology, MIT's role changed. And right now he sees RISD in a similar position."
I love that proposition. I love it because I think somebody could pretty reasonably scoff at it. And if a proposition isn't scoff-able, it's probably not edgy and exciting enough.
Sounds to me like Maeda is talking about, among other things, liberal arts 2.0.
Read his tweets and RISD blog for a sense of how Maeda thinks and communicates. It's really remarkable. I've been reading haiku lately and I see some of their spirit in him. Spare, observant -- but with wit.
File under: Design, Learnin', Society/Culture
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 25, 2008
Watching The Big Sleep in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and it is glorious. Lauren Bacall is as cool as blue flame, but it's hard to beat watching Bogart with Dorothy Malone. Even bookstore clerks are wise! In a way this is a key to film noir -- what passes as toughness is really a monumentous and universally held contempt for the slightest stupidity.
"I've got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest, and I'd better take her home." It's enough to make you want to write pastiches of pastiche, like the Coen Brothers squared.
December 24, 2008
Wish Me Luck
I'm off to San Francisco tomorrow, to win the hearts of academicians large and small. Committee breakfasts, a job interview (!), and a paper on paternity, modernism, and tragedy. (Apollonian patriarchy, legal fictions, Hegel's love child, and Ockham's razor abound! It will be awesome.)
I will catch you all after New Year's if not before. Keep your Kindles warm.
P.S.: Special props to Robin for hosting me in SF. When he returns, the city will be especially strong in the Snark.
Kindle: The 24-Hr Take
Soooo happy I gave myself a Kindle for Christmas.
The device came in handy immediately. I'm staying with my boyfriend Bryan in Minneapolis over the holidays, and the UPS guy arrived with the package very shortly after he left for work. As soon as I left Bryan's apartment to go upstairs and sign for it, I realized the door had locked behind me, leaving me in Bryan's robe and slippers, with no keys and no cell phone. But I did have a Kindle. Which meant I had Web access. I surfed to Ask MetaFilter, found lock-picking advice, and managed to get back in. Score.
Gripes: Like everybody else, I'm not really a fan of the paging button positions. Also, when you start typing notes, they should auto-save. I've been done in a few times by the combo of these two: I'll start typing a note, then accidentally hit the back key and lose what I've written.
The "locations" concept is smart, but I wish there were more cues about where locations start and stop.
Loves: Having a virtual library is already world-changing. I never imagined how cool it would be to instantly shift between different texts as I enter different information-seeking modes. I have always been a juggler of multiple books — there are times I want to read fiction, times I want to read non-fiction, times I want to read fluff. In the analog world, this is disorienting; it's hard to pick up where I left off with one book after having read another. On the Kindle, freed from a cacophany of book darts and dog ears, this feels wonderfully natural.
It is the same sort of epiphany the iPod invoked for me. Carrying a bunch of books around at once, it turns out, is every bit as much of an experiential leap as carrying tons of music around was in 2001.
I love the way the notes I take are both integrated into the book and separate from it. I never used to take notes on books because I hated having to skim all the pages to snatch fragments of the insights that occurred to me as I was reading. Suddenly, I'm taking all kinds of notes. (This works especially well with cheesy self-help books like The Four-Hour Work Week, which require you to do all sorts of exercises.)
I love that you can read for hours and the battery bar will not budge from 100%.
I've named my Kindle "Inkless."
Update: I extra-super-duper love the fact that I can use Google Reader from my Kindle. Yes, I could do this on my phone, but this is even nicer.
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 22, 2008
Gavin at Wordwright wants the word back:
"Graphic novel" is not any more descriptive, and worse in that it implies fictional content to the detriment of memoir, travelogue, reportage, etc., which is where you find some of the most interesting work being currently done—Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Lucy Knisley, perhaps?
I always thought that "graphic novel" was best used more as a material classification than a thematic one -- it's a standalone, extended-length treatment with a stiffer cover, while "comic books" are shorter and serial. But that doesn't get around the valorization of fiction. Hmm. Could we just tack on the generic marker to the end, like "graphic memoir"? Of course, now it sounds like something by Anaïs Nin. Blërg.
I like "comics" in part because I like the affinity between the comic book and the comic strip -- and "cartoon," which could either mean strips or animation, has its own problems. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that while I like comic books, especially the archetypal stories and characters they engender, I love comic strips even more. And "graphic strip" is even worse than "graphic memoir."
At all points we're besotted with and dumbfounded by language! In the end, I think we've got to give up attempts to engineer the thing, and accept that the terms we have are a hodgepodge with their own contradictions and unfair connotations, but a lot of wisdom too.
What do you guys think?
December 21, 2008
The Film Version Of Your Life
In mine, I would be played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There's a fair-to-middling physical resemblance, to be sure, but mostly, I just feel like he would do a really, really great job.
I'd also like it if he would say this about me:
The world is hard, and ... being a human on this earth is a complicated, messy thing.” Hoffman paused again. “And I, personally, am uncomfortable with that messiness, just as I acknowledge its absolute necessity. I find the need to play a part like [Tim Carmody] inescapable, and I only want to do things I’m that passionate about. I know there are actors out there that present themselves as cool cats, but you better take your cool-cat suit off if you want to act. You can’t otherwise.
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 20, 2008
Antikythera for Christmas
Matt can keep his Kindle -- I'll take one of these:
I seriously want to know more about the early history of astronomy. Less the sociology than the psychology of it - what was it that led humans to devote themselves to such long-term, precise observations? A belief in the power of distant gods? Boredom? The urge to find certainty somewhere, anywhere in the cosmos?
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
Magnificient and Fleeting (In Praise of Butter)
The most common mistakes made by home bakers, professionals say, have to do with the care and handling of one ingredient: butter. Creaming butter correctly, keeping butter doughs cold, and starting with fresh, good-tasting butter are vital details that professionals take for granted, and home bakers often miss.
Butter is basically an emulsion of water in fat, with some dairy solids that help hold them together. But food scientists, chefs and dairy professionals stress butter’s unique and sensitive nature the way helicopter parents dote on a gifted child...
“Once butter is melted, it’s gone,” said Jennifer McLagan, author of the new book “Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes” (Ten Speed Press).
Warm butter can be rechilled and refrozen, but once the butterfat gets warm, the emulsion breaks, never to return.
So tragic -- it's like Paradise Lost!
I say forget bacon -- butter is king.
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.
Learning the Classics, Line-By-Line
Over at Brainiac, Christopher Shea writes about interlineal translation, where each line of text is followed by a native-language (and generally near word-for-word) translations. James Hamilton popularized the method in the early 19th century (interlineal translations are sometimes called "Hamiltonian"), but they've fallen out of favor as a method of language instruction in favor of immersion.
It's really hard to find published interlineal translations, but the writer Ernest Blum says that immersion education has failed and that we ought to resuscitate Hamilton's pedagogy (or something like it) using texts like the Loeb classics, which have opposing-face translations (a method that's still much more common). The Loebs aren't interlineal, but they're the next best thing.
Wait a minute, though -- we're not stuck with the books we've got! We've got computers! As long as we've got the text, we should be able to represent these books any way we want -- as pure foreign-language texts, straight translations, line-by-line, or page-by-page.
If we really want to try giving line-by-line translation a try, someone should design a super-slick front-end for something like the Perseus database that spits out beautiful interlinear translations just for students learning to translate. And make it easy to switch views; in fact, you could do different lessons using different methods.
In fact, I don't understand why we don't have crazy rich client applications like Rosetta Stone packed to the gills with classic texts in every language for people to learn to read great books in their original languages. You could add reference sources, digital footnotes, audio recordings (Ian McKellan reading the Odyssey, anyone?) -- lots of stuff.
There are so many more things -- just simple things, really -- that we could be doing with digital texts. As the other great Homer would say, "I could do a lot of things if I had some money."
December 15, 2008
Filial Affection In An Entropic World
Stylistically, “Bottle Rocket” swings between poles of tension and release, order and chaos. In purely visual terms the film is tightly structured, with a systematic use of color (white for Dignan, bright red for Anthony), frontal compositions anchored by the horizon line, and a self-consciously theatrical sense of space: an open foreground for the action, played against a flat, immobile background (just as the motel rises from the flatlands around it). And there is no more linear plot structure than that of the heist film, in which pleasure lies in the orderly fulfillment of a precise program.
Of course, nothing like that happens, and the boys’ assault on a cold-storage warehouse, complete with brightly colored jumpsuits and malfunctioning walkie-talkies, is a disaster sprung from Dignan’s self-delusion. But Mr. Anderson, in this early film, does something he can’t bring himself to do later: he shows us the realization, in Dignan’s eyes, that he has been living in a dream world, and reality has belatedly arrived to claim its price (with interest). The moment comes when Dignan, being led to his cell, casts a single furtive glimpse back at Anthony, and it remains without parallel in Mr. Anderson’s work.
My favorite Wes Anderson movie is far and away The Royal Tenenbaums, but dang it, Bottle Rocket is so charming. It's like Owen Wilson -- sure, it's an immature mess, but you love it anyways.
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 14, 2008
What Physicists Like
My skepticism about the signal-to-noise ratio of Atlantic bloggers has a big asterisk next to it pointing to James Fallows. I like Fallows not least because of his tone -- he prefers chiming the triangle to banging the gong, although he can blow the horn when he wants to.
His coverage of the Eric Shinseki and Steven Chu cabinet picks show off Fallows at his blogly best. And today he has a follow-up about the Chu pick, with feedback from a writer (Steve Corneliussen) with contacts in the physics community. (Where else in journalism besides a blog can you cut-and-paste an email without chopping it up, paraphrasing it, or otherwise interjecting yourself all over perfectly well-reported and well-written analysis?)... Read more ....
December 13, 2008
(This marks the Snarkmarket introduction of the fullscreen-only HD video player. More to say about it, but for now, let me know if you run into any bugs.)
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
The other new trend in unemployment media is the rise of the bailout joke.
Bailout jokes range from late-night punchlines (""The three big domestic automakers are now saying they are working jointly on a new hybrid car. It runs on a combination of state and federal bailout money") to warmed-over stockbroker jokes, but what I'm really thinking about are the extended gags, like Charles Bernstein's poetry bailout or P.J. O'Rourke's bailout for print journalism:
Remember, America, you can't wrap a fish in satellite radio or line the bottom of your birdcage with MSNBC (however appropriate that would be). It's expensive to swat flies with a podcasting iPod. Newsboys tossing flat-screen monitors on to your porch will damage the wicker furniture. And a dog that's trained to piddle on your high-speed internet connection can cause a dangerous electrical short-circuit and burn down your house.
What is it that's so funny about our economic disaster? I love Depression-era jokes: it's hard to beat "the rich get richer and the poor get children." And the gap between sudden poverty and creature comforts has always been funny: cf. Will Rogers's "We’re the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poorhouse in an automobile."
But there's something fishy here, and it ain't the soup. The jokes don't seem to come out of a shared sense of struggle or even a wry awareness of relative privilege. There's almost a gleeful resistance to the idea that the current crisis is real -- a sense that wealth created by bogus paper transfers can be restored just as easily.
And maybe that's the way Paulson's first bailout package was presented -- the last technocratic trick to try to make this funny paper disappear from the books. There's something absurd and funny about that. But I hope the jokes stay at this level; I don't want to start making gags about bread lines again.
December 11, 2008
My Awareness Modes
I started to post this on Newsless, but I think it might be more Snark-appropriate.
I'm trying to articulate some of the values and expectations I bring to my media consumption. I wonder whether my tendencies are typical, or how I might benefit from cultivating different values and expectations.
When I visit most local news sites, I have this sense that the editors of the site are trying to foster a sort of "ambient awareness." That is, there's not really an organizing purpose behind the information they provide. I suspect they don't typically expect me to do anything with this information, but they just thought I should be aware of it, or that I might find it interesting.
Although I care about Minneapolis, I don't really have a strong desire to be ambiently aware about it. Having very shallow information on a vast range of Minneapolis-related topics actually makes me a little crazy. I'm not sure if this makes me a bad citizen or an idiosyncratic news consumer or what. But it's a filter I find myself employing when I read a local news site.
There are many domains in which I value ambient awareness. I think that's what I get out of my New Yorker subscription, for example — not particularly deep knowledge on any given subject, but a sort of conversational familiarity with a well-curated variety of current affairs. I like to think of myself as ambiently aware of what's happening in things like video games and Web development and gay culture and Minneapolis arts.
But in the domain of local news, I seem to value information that makes me "functionally aware" — that might actually affect my behavior or circumstances. So I'd pass over a headline like "City likely to OK $5.3M for Target Center green roof", but "Paperless boarding passes coming to MSP" interests me.
Besides local news, I seek functional awareness in a few more specific contexts, such as Web design and health and nutrition. I read publications on those topics that keep me informed of products or practices or developments that might affect me.
And then there are a select few topics on which I'm looking for what I might call "expert awareness." Online journalism, for example. And at this level, communities, not publications, are my highest priority.
I think my tendencies might be unique in several regards, but I wonder how many folks are like me. Is there a generational thrust to this sort of thing? And if everyone were like me, how would we draw attention to boring-but-important stories?
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?
Gender and Public Corruption
The Blagojevich scandal presents a familiar tableau: embattled man defends corrupt behavior.
Why is it so rarely a woman?
Replaying political scandals over the past year, tons of names come to mind: Rod Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Jack Abramoff, John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, Alberto Gonzalez, Ted Stevens, David Vitter ... I could go on. Off the top of my head, I can think of three female names: Sarah Palin, Monica Goodling, and Rachel Paulose. (And men figured prominently in all three of their scandals as well.)
Of course, there are a few instant provisos here:
- Fewer women in politics: This is the obvious one. The most female governors we've ever had in the U.S. has been nine. Perhaps if women were equally represented, they'd be equally scandalous.
- Lower likelihood of female sex scandals: Most of the men I mentioned above were exposed in a sex scandal. For several reasons — differing behavioral tendencies towards sex among men and women; possibly harsher attitudes towards women caught in sex scandals — women may just be less likely to be involved in sex scandals.
- Statistical noise in a small sample: The U.S. doesn't have all that much corruption, comparatively speaking. (At least as it's commonly measured; we can talk Chomsky later.) If we had more cases to deal with, perhaps we'd see more equivalence between the sexes.
But these caveats aside, there are reasons to suppose women might make for less corrupt politicians. Women tend to be more responsible stewards of household money. Partially as a result of that, efforts to deliver financial support to women in poverty tend to have a more uplifting effect than supporting men. Studies seem to indicate that women perform more altruistically in group situations.
I was able to find three studies that addressed gender disparities in political corruption. Two — Dollar, Fisman and Gatti (1999); and Swamy, Lee, Azfar and Knack (also 1999) — found that women are less prone to public corruption. However, a follow-up study in 2003, by Hung En-Sung, suggested that the correlation between more women and less corruption was essentially a happy accident.
And even if we were to prove conclusively that having more women does lead to cleaner government, where does that get us? What course of action does that suggest? Already, I think most of us inclined to trust such a study are strong advocates for better representation of women in politics. Should we institute a quota system, like Rwanda?
Of course, I think diversity in the political system is a valuable goal in itself. A more representative and heterogeneous political body would probably be less corrupt for all sorts of reasons.
But as these scandals parade before us, this will linger in the back of my mind.
The Boom in Unemployment Media
Oh, this is just the beginning: Unemploymentality.
I love the word "sportswriter." No need for a hyphen (like "letter-writer"), or dressing up the word "write" by writing as "graph" instead ("biographer," "pornographer") or the suffix "-er" with "-ist" or "-ian." "Sportswriter" keeps close company with "screenwriter," "typewriter," and "underwriter," and a wall separates it from "playwright" and "author."
But at the same time, nobody writes with more authority than a sportswriter -- if you don't act like you're pope of the game, nobody takes you seriously -- in part because every serious fan has their own equally infallible proclamations to make about the game, the value of players, coaches' decisions.
And the syntax makes it seem as though "sports" is what's written, not the thing written about; a parallel universe brought into being by the talk about the game, the recording of statistics, and the narratives of players, seasons, teams, the sport itself.
Sportswriters were the first writers I was aware of who actually got paid for writing down what they thought. In particular, it was Mitch Albom -- who before becoming a schmalzy best-selling novelist was a funny, knowledgable columnist whose super-cool photo in the Free Press fascinated me as a kid.
I am a paperwriter, a bookwriter, a blogwriter, a poemwriter. But secretly, I wish I could do all of these things the way a good sportswriter does them; following my object of affection around the country, hashing out opinions and arguments through daily viva voce argument -- in print, on the web, on the radio, on TV.
What if our attachment to all of culture was like our attachment to sports -- democratic, celebrating knowledge, unwavering in its fidelity? There are plenty of things that are deeply unhealthy about our sports-obsessed culture (cf. Burress, Plaxico, et. al.) -- but I still feel like the ideal of sportswriting is as salutary as it is unshakable.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Society/Culture, Sports
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.
The Man Who Pitched Ground Balls
Greg Maddux is retiring, after 355 wins, four Cy Young awards for pitching, and 18 (!) Gold Glove awards for fielding. (Maddux has more wins than any living pitcher; does he have more Gold Gloves than any living player?)
The NYT story also links to this appreciation by sportswriter Joe Posnaski, who breaks down Maddux pitch-by-pitch in a 1997 Braves-Yankees game. I especially like his reading of Maddux's fluttering "wiffleball" cut fastball; the way Maddux earned and got deferential treatment from umps; how three pitches strikes out Tino Martinez, who "was so baffled during this at-bat it was probably better to just send him back to the dugout where it was safe"; and how he managed to retire Mark Whiten:
When Maddux was going good, the only way anyone seemed likely to get a hit off him was if they could somehow fist his up-and-in fastball over an infielder’s head. That’s just what Mark Whiten did. i always loved Maddux’s face after a a batter blooped a hit off him; it’s the same face Tiger Woods has when a putt breaks a little too much … sort of this disgusted, ”You have GOT to be kidding me,“ look....
Maddux is, of course, one of the greatest fielding pitchers in baseball history — he has won 18 Gold Gloves. But even so, I’m not sure it is fully appreciated how much that has helped him succeed. It’s like he got two or three outs every game by doing something good defensively. In this case, he whirled and made the PERFECT throw to second base, right on the corner of the bag, that picked off Whiten. And just like that, without throwing a pitch, he eliminated what turned out to be the only run-scoring threat of the entire game.
File under "Wow": Adobe is working on an application called Zoetrope that allows you to quickly flip through archived web pages like you flip through pictures in iPhoto.
Google's cache has nothing on this. Basically it turns the isolated snapshots of the web we usually see into an evolving movie. What's more, it's got a feature-rich set of tools (all visually oriented) that lets you play with, reshape, and visualize what you find. The video showing it off is pretty amazing.
So you can:
1) See how web pages change over time;
2) Isolate just some data or images from those web pages;
3) Do statistical correlations from that data;
4) Plot it to another app.
December 7, 2008
Design Your Own Muppet
You can either buy the mail-order kit or go to FAO Schwartz in NYC now -- or starting in February, you can design your own Muppet "whatnot" (muppet code for "humanoid extra") online.
Powers That Be
Pretty Prose for an Ugly Sport
December 6, 2008
Objectified: Industrial Design
Speaking of objects and our attachment to them, I'm excited to see that Helvetica director Gary Hustwit is making a new film about "the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets." Sounds like a natural extension of that ingenious first film.
If everything in our lives were afforded the design attention that my toothbrush has, we would sit in chairs that floated while tickling our troubled backs, have tables that yielded at our aching elbows while remaining firm on top, walk on floors that tingled like active sand, and sleep on pillows that would never allow our ears to flatten against our heads.
My favorite song*, Smog's "To Be of Use," summarizes my attitude perfectly:
Most of my fantasies
To be of use
To be of some hard
Like a spindle
Like a candle
Like a horseshow
Like a corkscrew
* See also Nick Drake, "Northern Sky."
Watch for the clutch cameo by Mark Ganek!
December 5, 2008
The Perfect Wrong Analogy for Digital Reporting
I already have a love/hate relationship with this analogy from Virginia Heffernan:
Does anyone still believe that the forms of movies, television, magazines and newspapers might exist independently of their rapidly changing modes of distribution? The thought has become unsustainable. Take magazine writing. In school or on the job, magazine writers never learn anything so broad as to “tell great stories” or “make arresting images.” You don’t study the ancient art of storytelling. You learn to produce certain numbers and styles and forms of words and images. You learn to be succinct when a publication loses ad pages. You learn to dilate when an “article” is understood mostly as a delivery vehicle for pictures of a sexy celebrity. The words stack up under certain kinds of headlines that also adhere to strict conventions as to size and tone, and eventually they appear alongside certain kinds of photos and illustrations with certain kinds of captions on pages of certain dimensions that are often shared with advertisements. Just as shooting film for a Hollywood movie is never just filming and acting in a TV ad is never just acting, writing for a magazine is never just writing.
Yes! I mean, wait -- No!
Let me explain. I think that what Heffernan says is totally true. I also think that the sooner we recognize that specific forms we've inherited in analog media are contingent, tailored to the goals and necessities of their form and function, the better. Especially if we can also become just as fluent in reading/writing for new forms and functions, and keep that creative destruction going.
But! -- If our analogies for the emerging forms are all drawn from existing forms that most serious journalists, professionals, intellectuals, and artists don't really like, because they feel that they're forms of shallow, unprofessional, hackwork, then it's going to be really hard for a lot of folks to see how these new media can actually be a good thing.
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
Why do I love this so much? Because he turns the CW on its head:
Conventional wisdom: Smaller classes are better.
Wesch's wisdom: Huge classes are an opportunity!
I teach these huge classrooms of 400 students, and when I look out into that audience, I'm really thinking about how I can get all of their intelligence to work together so we can do something really amazing. If you think about what one person can do, that's interesting, but when you think about what 400 people can do when they all work together, that's really interesting. So my job has become increasingly about how can I harness the collective intelligence of these 400 people in front of me instead of just lecturing at them.
Watch 'til 2:45, at least. This is lighting my brain on fire.
Schools as laboratories for collaboration!
The multidivision corporation with layers of management is the archetypal 20th century organizational form. But the internet-enabled 21st century is all about the wealth of networks and nearly frictionless group coordination; the logic of that form is in flux. What's the new archetype? How are we going to figure it out?
Maybe we'll learn in school.
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.
The Internet Is An All-In-One Machine
Kevin Kelly, one of Snarkmarket's many intellectual crushes, now has a downloadable PDF of his "Better Than Free" manifesto available through Change This, which is like Revelator's brainy futurist cousin.
Here's how "Better Than Free" starts:
The Internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, and every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.
True! But the internet isn't just a copy machine; it's an all-in-one machine! Sure, we might mostly be using it to make copies, especially in the blogosphere. But when it's not all jammed up, this machine of ours can really do a whole lot more.
Change This is a great example. Sure, they could just copy the text of Kelly's manifesto, or point to it with a link. But instead they've taken the time to add value by giving that text a new, physically rich form. In other words, they've printed it -- taking that text and creating a well-designed document.
And what about Wikipedia? Sure, a lot of those entries are just auto-generated from old Brittanicas, or cut-and-pasted from fan sites and news articles. But a whole lot are patiently entered in by devotees, translating either from the offline analog world or from one language or context into the new, universal encyclopedia. It's the same impulse that leads people to track down old TV commercials or bootleg alternate endings to movies. It's what prompts them to track down the genuine text for obscure interviews between George Bernard Shaw and an Islamic mystic. These are the digital humanists, the scanners -- in this case freeing media from their old physical form before it can bounce around on the copying web.
Because ultimately, the web is really about faxing -- broadcasting your content to the world. The ability to freely copy, scan, or print would just be an exercise in narcissism if there wasn't a way for that message to reach a receiver, whether anonymous or known to us. This is what YouTube does, what Facebook does, and (yes) what blogging does -- it creates that electronic chain between sender and recipient, only in all directions, like light itself.
If you want to be more than a copy machine, you have to do at least one of these, and do it well.
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 £15,000, 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!
In Which I Solve All Civic Problems Before Finishing Coffee
In no particular order (and with no particular forethought):
1) The Big Three need access to credit, sure; it's a huge industry, credit is tight, and an underrecognized chunk of their business is tied up in financing loans, investing pensions, etc. -- GM is really a bank with a side business in automotive manufacturing. But instead of a huge bridge loan for token gestures, why can't the U.S. gov't really help them by taking over their pension and health care responsibilities outright and using that system + Medicare as a basis for a national health plan? The auto industry's outlook changes instantly, and we don't have to build our health care infrastructure from scratch.
2) Philadelphia has a huge budget crisis, and the most controversial part of its cost-cutting plan involves scrapping neighborhood libraries. How about instead of closing those libraries, you move other neighborhood-based government offices into the libraries? Public health offices, places to pull permits, bill payment centers, etc. Close or lease those offices, and keep the libraries open (even with reduced space and staff).
3) All government stimulus to the states should be paid directly to the universities, all of it, and a large part of the infrastructure spending should be devoted to creating new universities in cities and towns all across the country, innovative universities, teachers' universities, alternative energy engineering research universities, cinema and philosophy and modernist literature universities, poetry universities, public service universities, tranny prostitute computer-training universities, Ford and GM and Chrysler universities. We should consecrate ourselves to higher education, to building libraries and archives and hospitals and research centers and to hire, hire, and hire professors and administrators and staff like the G.I. bill was on and the returning vets and their baby boomer kids had seen nothing, nothing compared to this.
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.
How Nate Silver Brought Sanity To Polling
I say 538 wasn't great in this election season (just) because Silver's formula worked; it was great because it so consistently tempered the insanity of polling fluctuations (including at Pollster.com) by identifying erratic data, bad sampling, house effects, and other quantitative noise. In other words, Silver's formula (and his explanatory rationale for it), instead of just being an aggregate output, actually helped its readers to make sense of the broader universe of polling, from process to results.
As a result, the blog wound up being one of the best political reporting sites on the web. It helped take political junkies from obsessing about "the polls" as an undifferentiated black box out of which numbers spewed into something they could understand and criticize. I also can't say enough about its calming effects -- every time a friend would call me freaking out about some new polling "shift" (usually as a result of one poll's numbers following another's, or Drudge beating a cherry-picked drum), I was able to talk them down, using Silver and 538 as my authority.
When virtually every political blog is devoted to channeling outrage, it's salutary to have one that, even when challenging the CW, reassures.
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.
December 1, 2008
Lifehack of the Month: Bookmark to Wordpress
I was sharing this technique with participants in a blogging seminar I'm teaching in this week*, and I thought y'all might find it interesting.
This is a trick for making link-blogging even slicker than posting to your blog from Del.icio.us. Even if you're not interested in link-blogging, some of the steps might be useful from an info-management perspective.
2. Install the glorious Foxmarks. Enjoy seamless access to your bookmarks and passwords from any of your Firefox-enabled computers, complete with robust controls over which computers can access what. Feel free to import your Del.icio.us bookmarks. You won't be needing that service anymore (unless you require feeds for each of your tags). Mwa ha ha.
3. I've also installed Ex Bookmark Properties, which enables you to edit a bookmark's description from Firefox 3's default bookmark properties dialog.
4. Use Foxmarks to share as many bookmark folders as you desire.
5. Pipe the feeds from any shared folders into Wordpress using the FeedWordpress plugin.
Done. Linkblogging is now as easy as bookmarking in Firefox. Links will post to your blog after Foxmarks syncs your bookmarks and FeedWordpress fetches the Foxmarks folder.
I used this technique to make a quick-n-dirty linkblog for the seminar.
* Yes, I realize I'm the least prolific blogger in the blogosphere, and the only reason I can even cling to that title is that I've got excellent blogmates. Never mind any of that. I intend to more than make up for my infrequency by employing this trick to great effect once the Wordpress switchover is complete.
The NYT has a good article about US students getting their baccalaureates abroad (specifically in the UK and Ireland). It prompted, in order, the following reactions:
- When I applied to college, I found myself anxious about the prospect of leaving Michigan. However, two years later, I would have transferred to a European university in a heartbeat.
- I'm not sure how I feel about a more specialized baccalaureate -- I've pretty much resisted specialization throughout my academic career -- but generally speaking, so much of the UK system, from college entry to academic hiring, feels eminently sane when compared with the US.
- "My top schools where I want to apply to are Oxford and the Sorbonne. My safety's Harvard."
- Prediction: the schools listed will see their American apps triple next year, especially when word gets out that it's easier for Americans to get in than it is for native Brits. (Cheapness is another factor, but in my experience working with college admissions, a secondary one.)