January 29, 2005
Reading this blog makes me happy. It's just so thoughtful and, well, un-digital.
January 27, 2005
So I heard that Amazon's A9 search engine had some new local yellow-pages function. Whatever. Big deal.
Then I actually tried the new local yellow-pages function.
Take a minute to explore that link, the result of a search for 'canvas cafe' in San Francisco. Note that there is:
- a picture of the establishment in question, and, indeed,
- pictures of every establishment on the street. And you can
- walk up and down the street using the buttons at the bottom.
You're looking at the coffee shop I visit when I want a pot of tea. And if you click "Slider" on the bottom of the page -- under "Other Businesses Along 9th Ave" -- you'll be looking at the burger joint I visit when I want a delicious bacon heartstopper.
That's nuts! I love it! The steady digitization of the physical world! And soon -- mark my words, soon -- we will be tapping into this database from our mobile phones.
They've only photographed ten metro areas so far. But still: pretty good start.
Either Google is a) freaking out that they didn't think of this first, or b) chortling with amusement, secure in the knowledge that world.google.com will soon make A9's effort look like a fourth-grade diorama.
But I'm betting on -- and rooting for -- the former.
P.S. I eat here, too! Waughhhhh!
Weirdness on the Internets
January 26, 2005
Why Noids Love the Internet
Because I periodically like to find myself a host of excellent stuff to read in my spare time, here's something you microscope junkies might enjoy. What follows are Web reprints of 18 of the 23 stories published in The Best American Science Writing 2004. Tell me if there are any good ones.
- Jennifer Kahn - Stripped for Parts
- John Updike - Mars is as Bright as Venus
- Oliver Morton - Strange Nuggets (well, not exactly, but close enough)
- Keay Davidson - Mapping of Cosmos Backs Big Bang Theory
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Gravity in Reverse
- Dennis Overbye - One Cosmic Question, Too Many Answers
- Sherwin B. Nuland - How to Grow Old
- Ian Parker - Reading Minds
- Tom Siegfried - The Science of Strategy
- Kaja Perina - Cracking the Harvard X-Files
- Tom Bissell - A Comet's Tale: On the Science of Apocalypse
- Elizabeth Royte - Transsexual Frogs
- Susan Milius - Leashing the Rattlesnake
- Michael Benson - What Galileo Saw
- Barbara J. Becker - Celestial Spectroscopy: Making Reality Fit the Myth
- Kevin Patterson - The Patient Predator
- Michael Pollan - Cruising on the Ark of Taste
- William Langewiesche - Columbia's Last Flight
January 21, 2005
P.S. Everybody already has Gmail, right? If not, e-mail me (robin at this site) and I'll hook you up. It is the Stephen Buckley of webmail. (See below.)
A Role Model's New Role
Stephen Buckley, one of the most impressive men I've ever met, is the new managing editor of the St. Petersburg Times.
It is because of Stephen and other newspaper vets like him -- smart, thoughtful, fair, and wise -- that, amidst all my talk of media revolution, I include this footnote:
*But props to the old-school standouts.
Because those virtues are just as crucial in the new world of media as they were in the old. We'll be screwed if careful, contemplative voices just get lost in the blooming buzz of the blogosphere.
It'd be cool if Buckley got down with blogs, though. Last year, I pitched him on a blog-based beat reporter and he was skeptical. C'mooon Stephen! It's legit!
This one's for Robin.
The New York Times: Five Years on the Web. From January 20, 2001. Including a chat with Martin Nisenholtz and Bernard Gwertzmann (assorted NYT.com gurus), a super-fug Flash movie showing the history of the site, and a 1991 article announcing that "the development of a nationwide data network will allow personal computer users to tap sources as large as the Library of Congress or receive their own personalized electronic newspapers."
January 20, 2005
Filed under: Traditions I love.
Every year since 1949, a mysterious man has stolen to the grave of Edgar Allen Poe on January 19 to lay down a part-empty bottle of fine cognac and a trio of roses. The man, who's known as the "Poe Toaster," wasn't deterred by this year's cold spell.
January 19, 2005
I'd read several reviews before Blink came out painting it as some sort of self-help manual ... How rapid cognition can work for you! (To be fair, Gladwell sort of promises this himself, in his introduction, which I think was a bad move.) Many were skeptical, like David Brooks:
My first impression of ''Blink'' -- in blurb-speak -- was ''Fascinating! Eye-Opening! Important!'' Unfortunately, my brain, like yours, has more than just a thin-slicing side. It also has that thick-slicing side. The thick-slicing side wants more than a series of remarkable anecdotes. It wants a comprehensive theory of the whole. It wants to know how all the different bits of information fit together.
That thick-slicing part of my brain wasn't as happy with ''Blink,'' especially the second time through. Gladwell never tells us how the brain performs these amazing cognitive feats; we just get the scattered byproducts of the mysterious backstage process. (There have been books by people like Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner that go deeper into the brain chemistry of it.)
The thick-slicing side isn't even sure what this book is about. Is it about first impressions, or intuition, or that amorphous blending of ''what is'' with ''what could be'' that we call imagination? In some of his stories, it's regular people who are making snap judgments; in others, it's experts who have been through decades of formal training. In some experiments, the environment matters a great deal; in others, the setting is a psychologist's lab. In some, the snap judgments are based on methodical reasoning -- as with a scientist who has broken facial expressions into discrete parts; in others, the snap-judgment process is formless and instinctive. In some, priming is all-important; in others, priming is disregarded.
Moreover, the thick-slicing part of my brain is telling me that while it would be pleasing if we all had these supercomputers in our heads, Gladwell is overselling his case. Most of his heartwarming stories involve the lone intuitive rebel who ends up besting the formal, bureaucratic decision-making procedure. Though Gladwell describes several ways intuition can lead people astray, he doesn't really dwell on how often that happens. But I've learned from other books, notably David G. Myers's more methodical but less entertaining ''Intuition,'' that there is a great body of data suggesting that formal statistical analysis is a much, much better way of predicting everything from the outcome of a football game to the course of liver disease than the intuition even of experts.
("Thin-slicing," by the way, is what Malcolm Gladwell calls that first instant when our brain filters in only the relevant data.)
Don't believe the hype. Or rather, don't believe the backlash.... Read more ....
Why Is This So Cool? I Don't Know
Sometimes a phrase just strikes you exactly the right way, and you go: whoah. Well, here's one that just did that to me:
Link is to a cool NYT article about a very Indiana Jones-ish discovery (i.e. something cool hiding in plain sight; no undead Nazi goons). But really, it's just the name that gets me: The Star Catalog. Sooo love it.
January 18, 2005
I have discovered a blog that views the world entirely through the lens of fugliness.
January 17, 2005
When I was in college, I used to love these two recordings by a University of Pennsylvania a cappella group -- one was a cover of "Baby" by Nil Lara, the other a cover of Stevie Wonder's version of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." The singer, John R. Stephens, had this throaty, incredible tenor and a break in his vocal range so gorgeous it sounded almost as though it had been painted into the digital recording after the fact. You can hear a hint of the break by listening to the clip of "Baby" here. Stephens was also a marvelous arranger.
Anyway, a few days ago, I purchased an album on iTunes by a singer named John Legend. I had loved one of its songs from the radio, and after listening to the clips, it appeared the whole thing was excellent. I couldn't get over the thought that I'd heard that voice before, so I Googled my hunch that Mr. Legend was a renamed John R. Stephens, and I was, of course, correct.
This is just a roundabout way of recommending the album, while I'm in the business of making music recommendations. The man is incredible, even if I don't much care for his stage name.
January 16, 2005
Matthew Yglesias sez let's have news-blog-streams, not fugly articles:
If Dexter Filkins just blogged his reporting from Iraq rather than writing NY Times articles, I think things would be much improved. As things stand, he's forced on a daily basis to shoehorn 24 hours worth of content into a quasi-narrative newspaper format whether or not the development warrant it. The actual events in Iraq are better suited to being written about as a series of short, free-standing blurbs. Blog posts, in other words. The strength of Filkins' reporting is that Filkins is a strong reporter, and that the Times backs his work up with the Times's resources. That he's a newspaper writer is merely incidental.
And we know Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of NYT Digital, does too:
But imagine taking a world like Ultima Online -- designed for massive numbers of videogame players -- and apply it to the real world, where the players are reporting from all corners of the planet. This is a vibrant, interactive real-time view of the world.
Users in this context can zoom into the ongoing storyline taking place in dozens or even hundreds of locations. In this context, there is not a simply John Burns reporter in Bahgdad. There is a kind of ongoing John Burns channel that brings with it a continuous record. [...]
So can we make this happen already?
The problem is the NYT is stuck selling that stupid paper. They need to jettison that mess and digital digital get down. Just my $0.02, guys.
January 15, 2005
Ruben Fleischer has a new video out, and I think it may be my favorite of his many super-excellent music videos. It's called "Galang" (look for the link at the bottom of the page), it's by gorgeous Sri Lankan hip-hopper M.I.A., featuring her set against the backdrop of her animated artwork. Waaaaaaay too good not to share.
Hacking the NYT
If anyone has an immediate urge to read this week's NYT magazine cover article on Social Security (it'll appear on-site tomorrow), knock yourself out. I was eager to read this one, so I went hunting for this one, and managed to dig it up, oh, two hours early or so.
The best arguments I've heard say leave Social Security alone for the moment until we've a) got money, and b) can figure out exactly how best to improve it. Kevin Drum says, simply, don't worry your pretty little head about it. But even the Weekly Standard is urging against any rush to action.
But the tremendous momentum President Bush has given to privatizing Social Security means that, like it or not, something's probably going to happen to the program very soon. The NYT article is a good run-through of what has happened to it since its inception, of the players involved in the debate now and how they came by their positions, and looks at some of the possible treatments.
The author ends, though, with a philosophical question that frames the issue in a way I like: To whom do we owe a greater debt -- generations of the distant future, or of today and tomorrow?
January 11, 2005
Board Game Bonanza
Hey! The Morning News did a round-up of the best board games of 2004 back in December and I totally missed it.
The game called "Hansa" sounds super-fun:
"Participants play the role of merchants, buying and selling wares as they sail the Baltic Sea. The catch is that all the players are on the same boat and take turns determining where the ship sails. Hansa is a highly tactical game, and every turn is a tiny logic problem to be solved."
Buying and selling wares as they sail the Baltic Sea, people! Every turn is a tiny logic problem to be solved!!
Clicking around some of the article's links, I found this card game: Knock Knock. It looks fun, too. But mostly I just love the rock-and-roll ghost in the middle of the page, reproduced here to add visual interest to this otherwise marginal post.
January 10, 2005
A Note to Newsreaders
Note to RSS users: I just switched Snarkmarket's syndication feeds to go through Feedburner. I think, as a result, all of the Snarkposts will suddenly be duplicated. Sorry about that.
Using Feedburner, we'll be able to get a better sense of how many people read this site. Like, you know, is it just two million, or more like four million? What's that you say? Twelve?
Drop me a line if anything doesn't work correctly -- robin at snarkmarket.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about... hey, look, a baby hippo!
Constellation of Cash
Check out this excellent visualization of the federal budget. It's the discretionary part only, i.e. Social Security's not included.
Guess before you look: Which is bigger, the Department of Education or NASA?
Department of Homeland Security or Department of Transportation?
Department of Defense or everything else combined?
January 6, 2005
Time to Level Up
I've talked before about the dearth of good video game criticism; here's a great article on the subject from Westword, via Romenesko. Michael Roberts talks to leaders in the field (there are like, three) and closes with this kicker:
"People ask, 'Where's the Lester Bangs of video-game criticism?'" he says. "And I'm starting to think that might be the wrong question. Video games are a different kind of medium, and they need to be covered in a different way. We can't just borrow all of its idiom from film and rock criticism. But it should aspire to the same kind of quality that critics like Pauline Kael and Robert Christgau established.
"I see the association as being an expression of game journalism maturing," he adds. "We're trying to do something grown-up with it."
The article has a link to The Video Game Ombudsman, a site I've seen before but was happy to be reminded of.
These'll Be Worth Something Someday
So I was just doing a long-belated sweep of an old work e-mail account before it gets closed down for good, deciding what to save.
I'm pretty swift with the delete key, and exactly two classes of messages survived the cut:
- E-mails from girls I had/have crushes on
- E-mails from friends or colleagues who I think might one day be famous
Both surprisingly large groups, as I am by nature optimistic.
Also, this may be revealing too much, but I had an Outlook folder titled 'NYT stalking.'
January 5, 2005
An Open Letter to NYTimes.com
I just read an article by Jesse Oxfeld and it said you're getting ready to redesign your site:
The New York Times on the Web, for example, is about to embark on a site-wide redesign, driven partially by the new ways people reach online news.
The last time you redesigned your site, I was in college. In fact, I was basically majoring in NYTimes.com. Seriously, you know that sudden five percent increase in site traffic in 1999? That was all me.
I remember: When the new look came online, I was so indignant that I actually fired off a harsh e-mail -- something to the effect of, "But you have destroyed everything that made NYTimes.com special!!"
However, I was of course totally wrong. The new site was way better and I grew to love it within weeks.
And when I worked on the Poynter.org site redesign a few years later, I realized a) how hard it is to redesign a site, and b) how much it sucks when people slam you for it.
So I just wanted to let you know that I won't complain this time, no matter what.