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.
The Future of the E-Book Marketplace
Farhad Manjoo's jeremiad about the dangers of the Kindle is, um, weird. Give him points for originality, though -- for Manjoo, the Kindle isn't a joke that nobody will read, or an electronic interloper that will kill the book.
Instead, the Kindle is too good -- which means that Amazon will dominate the market and control book publishing the way iTunes controls the music industry.
The Kindle isn't the first electronic device to impose unpalatable restrictions on users. Until recently, if you wanted to (legally) download a broad range of major-label music for your iPod, you had to buy it from Apple.* (Ironically, it was Amazon that launched the first big online store that sold music without restrictions.) The same goes for video games. You can't play just any game on your Xbox. You can play only the games that have been approved and licensed by Microsoft. Then there's the iPhone, a veritable electronic Attica. The iPhone lets you buy music wirelessly -- as long as you buy it from Apple. The iPhone lets you add new programs to your device -- though only the programs that Apple approves of. Other than that, you're free to do what you like!
But the Kindle's restrictions are more worrying than those associated with the iPhone, the iPod, and other gizmos. For one thing, if you objected to the iTunes Store's policies, there was always another way to legally buy music for your iPod -- you could buy CDs (from Amazon, perhaps) and rip the tracks to MP3. That's not an option for books; there's no easy way to turn dead trees into electrons. Moreover, books are important. As a culture, we've somehow determined that it's OK for a video-game console maker to demand licensing fees and exercise complete control over the titles that get on to their systems. Sure, this restricts creativity and free expression, but if that's the business model that keeps the game business alive, so be it.
But we've come to a different cultural consensus on books. First, we've decided that books should be sharable -- when you buy a book, you can pass it along to others freely. In fact, governments and large institutions actively encourage the practice; we build huge, beautiful buildings devoted to lending books to perfect strangers. We've also decided that there should be an aftermarket for books: When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to sell that book when you're done with it. This not only helps people who can't afford new books, it also encourages those who can afford them to buy more -- it's much less risky to buy a $30 hardcover if you know you can sell it for $15 in six months. (Amazon is one of the biggest players in the used-book market.) And we'd certainly balk at a world in which your books were somehow locked to the store where you bought them. Say Barnes & Noble signed a deal to sell the next Twilight book at a huge discount. But with a catch -- the book would be published in invisible ink, and in order to read it you'd need to buy a special Barnes & Noble black light. This is ludicrous, of course, and no bookstore would ever attempt such a deal. But what's the Kindle other than a fancy digital decoder ring?
I don't understand how Manjoo can move so effortlessly from totally legitimate comparisons -- the answer to this last rhetorical question is that the Kindle is very much like a video game console, and that's a powerfully suggestive way to look at it -- to "ludicrous" ruminations about invisible ink and digital decoders, usw.
We didn't "decide" that books were especially important for our culture and deserved a special status under the law, anymore than we decided that shoes or clothes deserved the same -- we trade and lend those secondhand, too. That's one of the intrinsic benefits (or, if you're a content owner, a drawback) of the technology. And we have, at different points in our history, placed pretty serious restrictions on what can be published, printed, and sold. We fought that out, politically and economically -- and if the Kindle starts to bring unnecessary weight, we'll fight that out too. As, if you haven't noticed, we are everywhere these days -- not least because industrious people are turning dead trees into electrons every day. (It may not be as easy as ripping a CD -- but it can be done.)
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Video Games
February 27, 2009
Light as Sound
It's really the fluorescents themselves making the sound; Atushiro Ito uses mics attached to the bulbs, massively amplified and processed. Get out of town. (Via Peter Kirn.)
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?'
If Robin doesn't like this, I'll eat my hat.
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
Falling In Love With Lincoln
by Maira Kalman.
"The Stock Market Is Not A Good Metric Here"
So says Joseph Stiglitz on CNN: "The stock market is not a good metric here... If we give money to the banks, the stocks will go up. That's not what we're concerned about."
As Peter Dreier at TPM Cafe says, "the reliance by TV and radio newscasters, newspaper reporters and columnists, and quick-with-a-conclusion pundits on the stock market to assess the merits of a policy prescription, or even the health of the economy, is incredibly misleading."
Now, normally, what's good for the economy is good for Wall Street. Shareholders place bets on the economic future of their companies. If companies look like they'll do well, the stock goes up. On aggregate, a rising stock market suggests that a lot of companies will do well, and ditto the overall economy.
But it's an index, not a picture. Let's take a situation where what's good for the economic health of the nation involves, or even MAY involve, forcing shareholders to take losses. Now shareholders' interests are in conflict with good economic policy. In fact, in this case, the BETTER the policy is, the worse shareholders are likely to view it.
The banks, in this case, are like Allen Iverson. Normally, you want this guy on your team -- if he plays really well, your team plays well. Now let's say he's got a gimpy knee, but he can still shoot. Let's say you've got a lame fantasy draft that only ranks players by points scored. If you've got Allen Iverson in your fantasy draft, you want him to play, and you want him to chuck up as many baskets as possible to get his PPG high, at least until they can swap him off to somebody else before he REALLY gets hurt.
But if you're coaching the team, you want to sit him down on the bench or put him into rehab until he's ready to play again. Nobody would say that the fantasy draft players in this case have the team's -- or the game's -- interest at heart,
I can't tell you how many times I used to turn on the news to see that Iverson scored forty, but the Sixers lost. Who cares? I just want the game to be good again.
File under: Media Galaxy, Snarkpolitik, Sports
Michel Gondry + Flight of the Conchords + Ex-Girlfriends = Love
A little late, but I just saw this little delightful slice of pop:
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
So long as we're talking about classic literature morphing into monster movies, let's take a moment to look at Dante's Inferno, a new video game, um, loosely based on The Divine Comedy:
EA's take still features Dante as the protagonist, but the poet-philosopher is now a hulking veteran of the Crusades. He returns home from war to find Beatrice, the subject of his love and admiration, murdered. When her soul is "kidnapped" by Lucifer himself, Dante dives down to the very depths of hell, armed with Death's scythe, to win her back...
Dante's Inferno stands in a rather awkward place. The source material is a treasured piece of culture, yes, but it's far less likely to incite fanboy wrath than would a videogame adaptation of a contemporary movie or comic book series. Liberal arts majors might be shocked to find Dante morphed into a hypermasculine action hero. Other people won't care...
On the bright side, the story behind Dante's Inferno was pretty much fleshed out back in the 14th century, detailing hell's nine levels and many of the potential boss characters, so the development team likely just needs to fill in the blanks.
Look, classics get adapted, translated, bowdlerized all the time. But it's important to remember that in popular culture, people don't remember the original -- they remember the bowdlerization. I bet in a few years, we'll start to see college students who "know" that Inferno is about Dante rescuing Beatrice from Hell.
All the same, if they get the centaurs and the lake of boiling blood right, I am there. And who knows? Maybe some of the kids might even learn what "simony" means.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Video Games
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.
That Coffin Is A Lifeboat
One of my favorite people, um, ever is Charles Olson -- poet, amateur anthropologist, rector of Black Mountain College back when BMC was quite possibly the coolest place to be in the country. (Olson reportedly said, "I need a college to think with" -- something that I often feel myself whenever I take a stab at thinking about the New Liberal Arts.)
Olson's essay/manifesto "Projective Verse" helped build the bridge between modernist and postmodern literature -- in fact, Olson's sometimes given credit for helping formulate the whole idea of the postmodern.
One of Olson's most important contributions to American letters is his book Call Me Ishmael, a wonderful, idiosyncratic but authoritative critical take on Herman Melville and Moby Dick. Here, for example, are the first few sentences:
I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.
Olson himself was a giant -- 6'8" -- and knew a thing or two about spelling things large. (If you want to read more, I highly recommend picking up Olson's Collected Prose -- it's all really, really good.)
Now the University of Connecticut is digitizing Olson's notes on Melville -- which would be cool in its own right, but 100% cooler insofar as Olson's notes bring back a world that doesn't exist anymore:
Olson was one of the first scholars to consider the importance of Melville's reading and marginalia.
In the 1930s, Melville's surviving literary manuscripts, letters, personal papers and journals, and reading library were still, for the most part, in the possession of the family and a few institutional or private collectors. The most substantial collection of Melville materials unaccounted for at that point—and the materials that Olson pursued most vigorously—were the "lost five hundred," the approximate number of books Melville's widow had sold to a Brooklyn dealer in 1892. As a young scholar, Olson was indefatigable in his research; when he located a volume from Melville's library in a grand-daughter's home, in a private collector's hands, or on a public library's shelves, Olson carefully transcribed onto 5 x 7-inch note cards complete bibliographic information on the volume, as well as the content and location of Melville’s annotations and reading marks. Charles Olson’s note cards are, in a few important instances, the only account of Melville’s reading marks in books whose location is now unknown. Olson’s notes also provide scholars with Melville’s marginalia in volumes currently in private hands and not readily available to scholars.
In addition to the note cards on books from Melville's library, there are two other groups of cards at the University of Connecticut. On one group of cards Olson captured his notes of interviews and recorded his astonishingly thorough methods for tracking down relatives of those known or thought to have bought books from Melville’s library. Other note cards were used by Olson to record his reading and critical notes on Melville's published works. In all, nearly 1,100 note cards survive.
Unfortunately, when Olson moved away from Melville scholarship after the publication Call Me Ishmael (1947), he stored the results of his investigative work in a trunk in a friend's basement. Countless water leaks over the years damaged the note cards containing the transcriptions and research notes. Some cards were merely soiled; others were fused together in large blocks. After the University of Connecticut purchased the Olson papers in 1973, the note cards were stored separately while awaiting appropriate preservation measures.
That's right -- we can piece together Melville's library from soggy, seventy-five-year-old index cards.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', New Liberal Arts, Recommended, Science
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.
The Last Fifteenish Years of WWW
In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web, according to Steve Coffey, who's now the chief research officer of the market research firm the NPD Group. (Today, we spend about 27 hours a month online, according to Nielsen.)...
The biggest site, by far, was AOL.com; 41 percent of people online checked it regularly. Many didn't do so on purpose: With 5 million subscribers, AOL was the world's largest ISP, and when members loaded up the Web, they went to the company's site by default. For similar reasons, AOL's search engine, WebCrawler.com, was the second most popular page. Netscape, the Web's most popular browser, and Compuserve and Prodigy, the nation's other big ISPs, also had top pages.
Yahoo, which Media Metrix ranked No. 4, just after Netscape, was one of the few sites in the Top 10 that wasn't affiliated with an ISP or a browser. Its main feature was its directory, a constantly updated listing of thousands of sites online. To produce the directory, Yahoo employees—actual human beings—reviewed new sites and cataloged them according to a strict hierarchical taxonomy. When you typed in what you were looking for—say, "new magazine," "sexy site," or "advice on taxes"—Yahoo would search its directory and return sites that it had already reviewed. This produced pretty good results—when you searched for "White House Web site," you could be sure you'd get to the right page because someone had actually looked up the official site. Obviously, though, such a model was unable to keep pace with the growth of the Web. In retrospect, it's telling that anyone in 1996 thought this was a sustainable way to catalog the Web...
Some of Yahoo's 1996-era front pages have been saved in the Internet Archive. What's interesting about them is what they lack. First, no e-mail: The first webmail site, Hotmail, launched in July of 1996. There was no instant-messaging software; the first big IM client, ICQ, hit the Web early in 1997. The MP3 file format was invented in the early 1990s, but very few people traded music in 1996—the files were too big to cram down modems, and Winamp, the first popular MP3 player app, was published in 1997. All these innovations hit the Web suddenly, defying prediction, and each completely altered how we'd spend our time online.
Some of the claims here are sketchy -- Geocities as a precursor to blogging? Really? -- and suffer from web-centrism. After all, the world wide web was one of the LEAST interesting or effective things on the internet to spend your time on in the mid-1990s; usenet and email, which was mostly done over PINE or ELM servers in terminal clients, were where it was at. (I had a proto-blog my freshman and sophomore years of college whose "subscribers" were people in my email address book -- most of whom were friends-of-friends I didn't know.) All the same, it's worth reading and remembering a little of what it was all like.
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
My Facebook universe, clustered by cross-connections:
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!
The Logic of Oscar Predictions
Nate Silver, the web's Statistician Laureate*, created a statistical model to predict the winners of the six major Oscar categories. He got four out of six right, missing Penélope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress and Sean Penn for Best Actor. In his postmortem, Silver notes that Kate Winslet's flitting in and out of the category threw off his model, but also offers a broader defense of his approach:
Ultimately, this is not about humans versus computers. The computer I used to forecast the Oscars didn't think for itself -- it merely followed a set of instructions that I provided to it. Rather, it is a question of heuristics: when and whether subjective (but flexible) judgments, such as those a film critic might make, are better than objective (but inflexible) rulesets.... Read more ....
The advantage in making a subjective judgment is that you may be able to account for information that is hard to quantify -- for example, Rourke's behavioral problems or the politics of Sean Penn playing a gay icon in a year where Hollywood felt very guilty about the passage of Proposition 8. The disadvantage is that human beings have all sorts of cognitive biases, and it's easy to allow these biases to color one's thinking. I would guess, for instance, that most critics would have trouble decoupling the question of who they thought should win the Oscars -- those performances they liked the best personally -- from who they thought actually would win them.
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??
Sometimes a New Medium Sneaks Up On You
I'd seen references to Prezi here and there -- it's billed as a new presentation tool, a way to pan and zoom through ideas instead of clicking through slides. Which sounds pretty cool but, having now used this thing, I gotta say: The potential is much bigger than that.
I haven't been this excited about a new format in a long time. The tutorial video actually gave me chills. (Pretty sure I have never typed that sentence before.)
So here's my first prezi, which is just a little anecdote laid out in space -- absolutely not a good use of the technology. But it will give you a taste of the potential.
Cross-reference this with our ongoing future-of-books discussion. Also with Scott McCloud's infinite canvas.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Comics, Design, Media Galaxy, Technosnark
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.
Oh, man -- Lifehacker has a powerful strategy for home office clutter. The principle is, don't add more shelves to organize your stuff or spaces to put it in -- they'll just fill up with more junk, like cars and highway lanes in Atlanta. Instead, eliminate physical matter wherever you can, by scanning and shredding your files. Then, you must prebind yourself into a limited, manageable, securable amount of space. You must move your workspace into the closet.
Attentive Snarkmarket readers may know that this is where it gets interesting.
You see, one of the Snarkmasters already has a workspace in his closet, and while not an exact copy, it actually looks a whole lot like that very elegant picture above. And sometimes we joke about the whole "office in a closet" idea.
Another Snarkmaster, who lives in a city that, while not cheap, offers a whole lot more square feet for the money than the locale of SM#1, has a whole library in his apartment, filled with bookshelves and comfy chairs and file cabinets. But it's also full of empty boxes, piles of books and papers, strollers and baby toys, the occasional laundry basket full of clothes, old card catalogues that are really cool-looking but that he hasn't figured out what to do with, and these super-beautiful pocket doors that he uses to just close up the whole mess while he taps away on his laptop in the dining room.
The point is, one of these methods has achieved a kind of zen simplicity. The other may very well offer its own path to enlightenment, but it's going to require a lot of digging to come out on the other end. So, to you, sir, kudos.
File under: Design, Gleeful Miscellany, Object Culture, Self-Disclosure
February 20, 2009
Liberal Arts And Added Value
Here's something for Dan: the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin is offering a new four-year degree in Value Studies:
This is the first degree programme to be structured around the concept of value. In current academia, the fundamental types of value, and the questions and concerns which attend them, are separated out into several departments. Too often, the result is that the most important questions we expect academia to address are lost in the pursuit of specialized training. ECLA, in contrast, is a college without departments, where the different norms, claims and ideals we live by, and the different forms of theoretical work they inspire, are brought together in a single programme of study. Throughout the four years, students work with academics from different backgrounds on moral, political, epistemic, religious, and aesthetic questions, with the understanding that such questions are naturally and deeply connected. The programme is designed for students who want to combine their pursuit of special interests with a demanding studium generale and serious reflection on the meaning of education.
There are three area components to the value studies major -- Art and Aesthetics, Ethics and Political Theory, Literature and Rhetoric -- and each student picks TWO of these as concentrations.
The faculty -- who all seem to be quite young -- is packed to the gills with Committee on Social Thought refugees from Chicago, so you know that everyone there spends their time pondering Big Ideas. (Disclosure: I spent a year in Chicago doing an MA loosely associated with the Social Thought gang, and while it ultimately wasn't for me, I am a sucker for this stuff. When someone starts talking about ideas of virtue in Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Weber, I pee my pants a little.)
I'm also fascinated by the idea of swapping "departments" for "norms, claims, and ideals." It's just enough of an isomorphism that you can still see it as a specification, but just differentiated enough that you can give it a completely different interpretation.
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."
Liberal Arts In Translation
Colleges abroad are porting the American liberal arts college, but even the branches opened by American universities are a little bit different:
Arguably the most ambitious attempt at a branch campus yet is underway in the United Arab Emirates. While there are also plans for graduate programs, NYU Abu Dhabi is to be, over time, “a full-scale liberal arts college” of more than 2,000 students.
In developing the core curriculum – the college plans to accept its first class of students in 2010 – NYU has identified four broad content areas in which students will have to take two courses each: Pathways of World Literature, Structures of Thought and Society, Ideas and Methods of Science, and Art, Invention and Technology. “They’re not foundations for the major,” explained Mariët Westermann, vice chancellor for regional campus development at NYU. “They open up a whole field of thought and action, you could say, to students.”
Westermann also referenced another aspect of the American liberal arts model that NYU is adopting in Abu Dhabi – its residential component, and its emphases on peer-to-peer learning and community. Administrators plan to require that all students live in college housing, although Westermann said exceptions will be made as needed.
“In principle, we will require 100 percent on-campus residency the way the strongest liberal arts colleges in North America do,” she said. “We’re really making those values of being in the place very central to the educational experience and central to our campus planning.”
John Churchill of Phi Beta Kappa, who's worked on liberal arts education in China, notes how firmly the idea of the liberal arts is embedded in our culture:
"These are praiseworthy efforts. But the first thing that has to be said is that the liberal arts model as we understand it in this country is an American creation... It has roots in the Oxford tutorial system and yet it is so much a part of the cultural fabric of this country. There are all sorts of linguistic and conceptual hurdles that have to be crossed before you can even begin asking the right questions about whether it’s viable or feasible or appropriate in another cultural context.... So much of what we say about liberal education in the United States has to do with preparation for citizenship in a participatory democracy, with the readiness to apply critical thinking to all claims, and the emphasis on individual development... and so forth. A moment’s reflection will show the difficulty of translating those distinctively American values into a Chinese cultural context. That’s not to say it’s not valuable. It’s not to say it can’t be done. It’s just got to be very carefully thought through."
It's almost like, by translating the liberal arts into China, Ghana, Poland, or Kuwait, you identify the invariants in the system. This appears to be (in UA-Kuwait's formulation): "critical thinking, effective communication, innovative leadership, aesthetic appreciation, cultural awareness, ethical standards and technological literacy."
And, apparently, living in dorms together. Which is not at all to be discounted! I often say that I feel like ALL young people should get the chance to go live away from home with a bunch of other young adults... if you're an electrician, living with other electricians, farmers with other farmers, etc. There's something very powerful about that rite of separation and aggregation. It's like a multi-year Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
File under: Learnin', New Liberal Arts, Society/Culture
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
The Late Shift
This essay by Ben Mathis-Lilley on why Conan O'Brien, haters aside, will kill as the new host of The Tonight Show, is merely probably true. However, this collective autobiography of O'Brien fans is right on the money:
Even Conan's biggest fans are worried that he'll fail or, worse, dumb down his act in an attempt to imitate Leno's lucrative inanity. In this scenario, success is a more horrifying possibility than failure. I know about that last part because I'm one of those fans, a member of the demographic most likely to view Conan with love and affection: people who reached late-night-TV-watching age at around the same time Conan's show started getting good, around 1995 or so. If you're like me, you started watching Conan regularly at around age 13 or 14, and continued as a highly regular viewer for the next eight or nine years, your loyal fandom enabled by the fact that, as a teenager and then a college student, you had no problem staying up until 12:40 every night. (Fortunately, my turn toward marginally more responsible sleep/lifestyle choices has coincided with the rise of DVR.)
In fact, this observation is so good, I can't believe BML doesn't capitalize on it. This is why Conan will kill at 11:30 -- because his fan base isn't in their teens any more. We're in our thirties, close enough, or older. We don't even like to stay up that late, we've got to TiVo the damn show. And Jay Leno's fans don't want to stay up past eleven. The show will be a success not because Conan's "matured" but because We Are Old.
I started seriously watching Conan in my freshman year of college; as a kid, I used to sneak downstairs to watch Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show w/ Johnny offered adulthood at its most enigmatic and alluring; with Jay, it seemed phony, bloated, contrived -- above all, to be avoided. Hence, cartoons and Conan.
We're the people who watch The Tonight Show now. Does it feel too soon?
File under: Media Galaxy, Self-Disclosure, Society/Culture
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"??
The Signtific Process
It is seriously fun, and very much in the spirit of improv: It's all about getting a random idea, and then somebody else says "yes, and..." and so on. Except instead of, you know, producing an evening of hilarious comedy, you produce a crazily-detailed vision of the future.
Here's the first scenario:
And here's my profile so far. Gotta amp up my dark imagination...
February 17, 2009
Livesnarking: Chris Hedges at Mizzou
The Book Is Better
Willing Davidson, "Great Book, Bad Movie: How Hollywood Ruins Novels":
This isn't an original complaint: Liking the book better than the movie is a middlebrow rite of passage. And novels are a constant, renewable source of stories for Hollywood, with ready-built brand appeal—from the kiddie franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia) to the airport bangers (Da Vinci Code, the Bourne etceteras). Nor are these always bad movies. It turns out that good plots and an epic dimension translate well from page to screen. But the attempt to scale this model by making midsize movies from literary novels has been an ugly disaster. In our post-The Reader world, I can safely say that I'd rather personally digitize back issues of Talk magazine than see another movie based on Harvey Weinstein's favorite book. Scott Rudin can fuck off, too.
I once interviewed to be a literary scout for a respected producer. The job, as described, was this: find the best novels before anyone else does so they can be bought and made into great movies. This sounds admirable. But it rests on the idea that what makes a literary novel good can be translated with any reliability into what makes a movie good. Three of the films that will be feted come Oscar night are based on recognizable literature. And while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader are definitely terrible movies, Revolutionary Road is both the worst movie I saw this year and one of the best novels I've read.
Davidson has an intriguing theory: the movie industry is both too deferential to novels and clueless about how they work. "There's so much plot to get in that there's no time to tell the story."
Some movies that are better than the books they're based on: The Godfather, The Birth Of A Nation/The Klansman, The Shawshank Redemption, The Magnificent Ambersons, Goodfellas, The Bridge on the River Kwai, many of Stanley Kubrick's movies. Others equal to the task: Malcolm X, Blade Runner, Fight Club, Kurosawa's adaptations of Shakespeare.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Movies
New Liberal Arts Book Project Update
On my Google Docs dashboard, I have a folder called NLA Book.
In that folder, I have 24 entries, from 21 different people, on subjects that include: home economics, micropolitics, journalism, reality engineering, coding and decoding, creativity, media literacy, negotiation, play, brevity, inaccuracy, mythology, mapping, attention economics, photography, translation, urbanism, futurism, and design.
If this sounds like a book sent back in time from some slightly-wacky future, I think that is exactly the point.
The entries are quite heterogeneous, with a wide variety of voices and approaches. I think you're going to enjoy reading them all together, and deciding which are your favorites.
We'll use the rest of this week to finish editing the entries and begin the design of the book. Next week we'll design in earnest, and find out about all the production details we can't anticipate ahead of time.
And then... we print! The book is going to be between 4"×8" and 6"×9", a slim paperback. We'll post the PDF, and give it a CC license so you can do interesting things with it, but there will be a couple of really good reasons to buy the book, even above and beyond the pleasant physicality of it.
I'll keep you posted as production gets closer so you can pre-order, and/or tell your nerdy friends about it.
It's been an exciting week as the entries have come rolling in. I wish you could see my Google Docs interface as I do right now: It's a long list of smart collaborators (all fellow Snarkmarket readers!) whose names keep blinking to life beside their entries as they dip in to make changes, leaving funny time-stamps because they're halfway across the world, or up all night.
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
The Democratic Arts
Here's a pitch: The three great democratic arts are law, education, and journalism. You need skilled practitioners in each, free to do their work openly in the public sphere, in order to have a healthy democracy. Specifically a meritocratic democracy with true social mobility.
I've seen the phrase "democratic arts" plenty of times, but never attached to a list like this -- though it's possible I'm unconsciously cribbing it from somewhere. I like these three because, besides being concrete and important, they're each fun.
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.
A Bowling Ball In A Lane Of Pins
I really like this Jonathan Abrams article on LeBron James. It's not about anything off-court. It's not about his relationships with his teammates, coaches, or management. It's not about a particular game or set of games. It's not even really about him, except in a refreshingly limited way.
Instead, it's a well-researched article featuring multiple interviews (mostly with James's opponents) about a single aspect of his game -- his unique and nearly unstoppable ability to drive to the basket.... Read more ....
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
Different Ways of Seeing
I tell you, these tilt-shift videos aren't just cute. They're an important new way of seeing. I'd liken them to the cosmic-radiation coloring schemes so often used for images from space. Nebulas don't actually look like that to the human eye, but it's kinda crucial that we can see them that way. Likewise, oil rigs and helicopters don't actually look like this to the human eye... but it's kinda crucial that we can see them this way:
Nice music, too!
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.
Craig Saper is an amazing guy. When he couldn't get travel funds to deliver a paper on Bob Brown's "Readies" at a panel I chaired at the Modernist Studies Association conference a few years ago, he sent a DVD of himself, reading his paper from an airplane seat, wearing sunglasses. Midway through, the video began speeding up and slowing down, and the audio track was punctured by bleeps, like a badly edited R-rated movie on TV. It was all part of the performance, on reading technologies and obscenity. I wish I still had a copy of it.
-- Kenny Goldsmith, "Littany (for Albie)"
Well, Craig's curated (with Theo Lotz) an exhibition at the University of Central Florida called TypeBound, on books-as-sculpture. Warning: the web site is actually kind of crummy, animated image files and links that download PDFs instead of going to pages. But the exhibits! Amazing stuff: books made of shoes, books with type written on the edges of pages, books with pages going in every direction, and a slew of typewriter poetry. Well worth checking out.... Read more ....
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Object Culture, Recommended
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.
Unlocking the Cash Economy
It turns out that there is more money in the inner city than we thought:
In its 2004 report on the city of Cleveland, Social Compact detected a residential population that was 24 percent higher than 2000 Census figures indicated. In studying the new immigrant hub of Santa Ana, Calif., for a 2006 report on that city's disadvantaged communities, Social Compact found an average household income 40 percent larger than that captured in the 2000 Census -- a discrepancy Social Compact says can be partially explained by a thriving informal economy many traditional economic models don't capture.
In an interview with Miller-McCune.com, Social Compact CEO John Talmage attributed the difference in the numbers to his organization's mining of data from a variety of sources -- including tax rolls, utility accounts and credit companies -- rather than relying on computer models based on incomplete or unreliable data. The approach tends to emphasize the economic opportunity -- rather than the poverty and deficiency -- to be found in low-income neighborhoods.
America's inner cities, according to ICIC's Web site, represent $122 billion worth of retail purchasing power.
... Read more ....
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.
Compression Artifact Art
Aha! It was only a matter of time. This new Chairlift music video is all about the warped, chromatic beauty of bad video compression:
It's really hard to watch without thinking something is wrong, yeah?
The New Liberal Arts, 1912
From The Atlantic Monthly:
Can we not devise a system of liberal education which shall find its foundations in the best things of the here and now? Literature and art are all about us; science and faith offer their daily contributions; history is in the making to-day; industry pours forth its wares; and children, no less than adults, are sharing in the dynamic activities of contemporary social life. Not in the things of the past, but in those of the present, should liberal education find its beginnings as well as its results. Fortified by the resources, interest, and insight thus obtained, it can be made to embrace areas of culture and power which are relatively remote and abstract.
David Snedden, "What Of Liberal Education?," January 1912.... Read more ....
File under: Books, Writing & Such, New Liberal Arts
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.
The New Look
Every Cayce Pollard neuron in my brain is firing at once. Mark my words: In six months, you're going to see this look everywhere. Lush, razor-sharp, organic, with everything sorta on fire. Oh, and lots of projection-mapped video. Artsy augmented reality.
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.
Everybody Needs One
Sometimes a single detail makes an entire story. I think that's the case with Jodi Kantor's profile of Richard Holbrooke:
(Many people have personal trainers; Mr. Holbrooke has a personal archivist.)
I was actually thinking about archives this morning, after reading this bit from Tim's Whitman post:
But Whitman's notebooks at this time are filled with images, just jottings, of these people, what they're doing, what they look like, what their names are.
Cross-reference with Michael Bierut's wonderful stack of notebooks. I love the idea of keeping a durable, written record like this... but I am congenitally incapable of using and keeping notebooks. I'm way more comfortable with digital notes -- emails to myself, short little Google Docs, etc.
What's a good compromise? Is there some easy way to physical-ize those notes? Maybe I need an app that literally scans my stuff for certain kinds of documents, saves them, and prints 'em out en masse.
I mean, until I get a personal archivist, anyway.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Self-Disclosure, Society/Culture
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.
Personality and Urban Affection
So, this morning, during the Snarkmasters' sequifortnightly transcontinental gathering over email, coffee, cold pad thai, and cinnamon swirls, the conversation turned to Walt Whitman, and I was reminded of the really quite lovely American Experience documentary on Whitman that was broadcast around a year ago.
I love Ed Folsom's account of Whitman's experience of "urban affection":
Whitman feels the power of the city of strangers. He's looking at a city of strangers and how something we might now call urban affection begins to develop. How do you come to care for people that you have never seen before and that you may never see again?
Every day we encounter people, eyes make contact, we brush by people, physically come into contact with them, and may never see them again.
But Whitman's notebooks at this time are filled with images, just jottings, of these people, what they're doing, what they look like, what their names are. 'What is this person doing? What's the activity that defines this person?
"If I were doing that activity that person would be me. If I were wandering the other way, rather than this way, that person could be me. That could be me. That could be me. What is it that separates any of us?'
Folsom co-edits The Walt Whitman Archive, a fantastic resource with complete e-texts, photographic images of all of the alternate editions, biographies, scholarly essays, you name it.
The only real downside to the online presentation of the Whitman Documentary (and it's a real downer) is 1) there's no way to watch the whole documentary straight through and 2) the videos can only be displayed as teeny-tiny Quicktime/WMA pop-ups. Come on, PBS! Broadcast TV has finally figured out how to rock the computer screen in fullscreen HD -- so has YouTube, Comedy Central, and, um, everybody. The people demand that their public digital television be done up right.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Media Galaxy, Recommended
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
Book Update: First Deadlines, Production Brainstorm
Wow! We're off to a great start towards a book on the new liberal arts. How do I know? My scrollbar gets teeeeny-tiny when I click that link.
We're talking about potential NLAs like archiving, attention economics, branding, collaboration, home economics, mapping, micropolitics, photography, play, urbanism, writing for computers -- the list goes on and on. And I'm realizing that we're going to have to get good at a bunch of these new skills, fast, just to make this thing.
So what comes next? Starting this weekend, we'll reach out to some contributors from the comment thread on that original post; then, we'll all spend the next week writing and editing. The deadline for copy will be Monday, February 16.
After that... we design the book!
Then, of course, there's printing; we're thinking hard about that step. If you have any tips, insights, or leads related to that part of the process, we'd love to hear them. You can leave a comment on this post or send an email: Is there a printing company you love? Some new print-on-demand scheme that we should know about? Elephant poop paper? Etc.
Look for another book update early next week. And, if you haven't yet suggested a new liberal art of your own -- now is precisely the time! Jump in.
Seriously, look at that scrollbar. It's barely there.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, New Liberal Arts
If This is Flash, Then I Don't Wanna Be Right
Colors for All of Us
I'm gonna bookmark Ben Fry's Super Bowl logo palettes because I feel like they have probably been insanely well-tested to appeal to lots of people... people in Ohio and Florida.
These are populist palettes!
So, if you're anywhere near Facebook these days, chances are good that you've seen the "25 Things" meme. The descriptions and titles vary, but the basic idea is that you have to write twenty-five things about yourself (no restrictions on what they are or how you use them) and then tag twenty-five of your friends. Once tagged, you're expected to write your own list and tag your friend back.
My little corner of Facebook has generally been resistant to these kind of digital chain letters. But this one took off. Why?
Working hypothesis: Facebook and its ilk are all about self-disclosure and keeping tabs on your friends. But they all generally proceed according to fixed categories -- favorite music, movies, books, usw. -- or through the structures of particular applications, groups, or wall-to-wall communication. The fact that the twenty-five things prompt doesn't define what you write about, that it asks you to be creative within a very broad (but finite) constraint, is an irresistable invitation. And invariably, nobody uses their twenty-five things post to say, "I love Animal Collective." It's all about filling in the gaps in the schema.
Likewise, the meme actually forces you to identify twenty-five friends whom you'd like to tag in the post. You're restrained by having to tag the person who tagged you, but otherwise, you have to do what Facebook and its ilk virtually never ask you to do -- to CHOOSE among your friends the subset whom you'd most like to know more about. Effectively, it asks you to designate superfriends.
So, in the context of a social network where you're able to know a lot of small things about a lot of people, we have an emergent structure that allows you to know a little bit more about a little bit fewer people. Because what your friends write about is still minutiae -- little stories from childhood, their favorite meal, a secret phobia -- but it's slightly more unexpected, slightly more meaningful minutiae. And through that, it gets at just a little slice of what has made social networking surprisingly fun in the first place.
It reminds me a little bit of the early days of Friendster -- when you needed to be invited by a friend, where "wall entries" were "testimonials" where you could unabashedly praise your friends or make up bizarre, impossible stories -- personal and public, sincere and self-ironized all at once.
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.
Drawings in Time
Katja Mater takes multiple exposure of her drawings as she creates them, so you sort of see them across three dimensions: width, height, and time.
Also, on her website, she has a gallery labeled "celebrating RGB color space" which I don't fully understand, but love.
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.
A SNARKMARKET BOOK PROJECT: The New Liberal Arts
Paper is the new black, so we're making a book.
Actually, we're making it because the comments and conversation on Snarkmarket deserve this kind of durability. And because, hey, we're a book-ish crew: This will be fun.
So here's the frame:
It's 2009. A generation of digital natives is careening towards college. The economy is rebooting itself weekly. We have new responsibilities now -- as employees, citizens, and friends -- and we have new capabilities, too. The new liberal arts equip us for a world like this. But... what are they?
The time is ripe to expand and invigorate our notion of the liberal arts. Is design a liberal art now? How about photography? Food? Personal branding?
We don't want to generate a canonical list, but rather a laundry list. We want pitches for new liberal arts that are smart, provocative, insightful, surprising, and/or funny.
Together, they'll read a little like the course catalog for some amazing new school. (The College of Snarks and Letters? Our endowment is untouched by the financial crisis!)
So now we'd like to ask for your help.
There are two ways to be part of the book:
- Make a pitch for a new liberal art. It can be something you know lots about, or something you wish you knew lots about. It can be general or specific. It can be anything. Leave your first draft as a comment on this post, and don't worry about thinking it all the way through. Don't worry about length, either. If we decide to include your pitch in the book, we'll work all of that out.
- Help promote the project. Even if pitching a new liberal art isn't your speed, someone in your network might have a great idea. So blog this post; Twitter it; email it to your two nerdiest friends. Here's a shortened link, if it's helpful: http://is.gd/i4lG
Let's move fast on this. We'll collect pitches for new liberal arts over the course of the next week. Then we'll switch quickly to editing, design, and production.
The book will be slim, and the print run will be small. And I'll post details on price (cheap) and availability as soon as I have them.
This is a Snarkmarket/Revelator Press co-production. We've admired the spirit and design of the Revelator e-chapbooks for ages, so now we're going to team up to make something you can actually hold in your hands.
Welcome to the curriculum planning committee. What does the class of the 21st century need to know?
Update: Wow! There are now over 100 contributions and comments below -- but don't feel like you have to read them all to post one of your own. We're going for free-form idea generation here, so have at it!
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', New Liberal Arts
February 1, 2009
Post-Office Correspondence Art
Dan Visel at if:book has a super entry/exhibition on postal art from Ray Johnson to Ben Greenman:
Johnson ran what he called the New York Correspondence School; he used the word correspondence not simply for its reference to communication but for the way he made associations with words and graphic elements in his collages... Membership was seemingly capricious and full of contradictions: members included institutions and the dead; the school committed suicide publicly at least once; and it was at best the most constant member of a baffling parade of clubs and organizations that Johnson ran, including, at random, Buddha University, the Deadpan Club, the Odilon Redon Fan Club, the Nancy Sinatra Fan Club...
"The whole idea of the Correspondence School," Johnson told Richard Bernstein in an interview with Andy Warhol's Interview in August, 1972 "is to receive and dispense with these bits of information, because they all refer to something else. It's just a way of having a conversation or exchange, a kind of social intercourse." Emblematic of Johnson's work might be his Book about Death, begun in 1963, which consisted of thirteen printed pages of collaged images and text, which were mailed individually to Clive Phillpot, chief librarian at the Museum of Modern Art, and others. (A few pages are reproduced below.) The Book about Death was discorporate, as befits a book about death; more than being unbound, Johnson made sure that none of his readers received a complete set of the pages of the book. The book could only be assembled and read in toto by the correspondents working in concert: it was a book that demanded active participation in its reading. The content as well as the form of the Book about Death request active participation: the names of his correspondents feature prominently in it, but understanding of what Johnson was doing with those names requires some knowledge of the people who had those names.
One of my favorite recent literature/history/theory books is Bernhard Siegert's Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System. Visel doesn't quite say this, but it's clear that despite Johnson's humanist intents, he was using the technology of the mails in a way that was pretty resolutely anti-nostalgic. (In his fake-manifesto "Personism," Frank O'Hara says that he once realized while he was writing a poem for someone that he could just as easily pick up the telephone and call them -- you might say that Johnson realized he could just as easily send them a cheap postcard.)
Greenman, on the other hand, with his de luxe edition "book" collecting accordioned pamphlets and postcards, is working in a different register, where similar gestures connote a backwards-looking resistance to both electronic communication and industrial book design. But (and here Visel is spot on) both foreground the notion that literature doesn't just have a reader but a recipient -- a correspondent, so to speak -- whose contact with the author begins with (but isn't necessarily limited to) buying or reading or thinking about or talking about the book.