July 31, 2007
If You Live in New York, Go to This
July 30, 2007
Perl Is a Shinto Shrine
With Great Power Comes...
James Fallows on two-tiered stock structure in media ownership:
The only justification for "Class B" shares giving special voting power to the Sulzberger family at the Times, the Graham family at the Post, and the Bancroft family at the Journal is the assumption that the families will weigh other factors in deciding how the news operation should be run.
That is: other potentially non-economic factors.
Of course, Class B shares aren't just an old-school thing. Guess which other company uses them to give super-votes -- and, potentially, the power to defy the market -- to founders and top executives?
Liberals, Progressives, and the Future
Noah Millman on the temperamental difference between liberals and progressives over at the new American Scene. I interpret it thusly: Liberals like poetry; progressives like science fiction.
All Quiet on the Weekend Front
Nearly a week without posts! Yikes! Don't worry -- I have a huge backlog of noteworthy items. In the meantime, meditate on this.
July 24, 2007
The Power of Potter
I love this: Young legal scholar and blogger James Grimmelman (who I ran into at that Regulating Search conference back in the day) loved Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so much that he is starting a short-term blog of Potter ruminations. (Be careful with that link! We are talking about a blog specifically predicated on spoilers!) It's terrific and I am totally going to hang out there.
Via Fimoc: trailer for Wes Anderon's new movie, The Darjeeling Limited. If this follows the pattern established by previous Wes Anderson movies (Bottle Rocket: hated it; Rushmore: loved it; Royal Tenenbaums: hated it; Life Aquatic: loved it)... I will hate it.
July 22, 2007
Errol Morris, Photography, and Truth
Good stuff on Errol Morris's New York Times blog. (Given the reaction of those three nouns -- Errol Morris, New York Times, and blog -- in my brain, I suddenly feel kinda like the target of one of those precision laser-guided munitions... except it's a blog, not a bomb, and I'm me, not a suspicious-looking chemical plant.)
Because it is TimesSelect, I will not tease you with a provocative blockquote. I will say: If you have access to the NYT's restricted garden of delights, the comments are as good as the blog post.
Update: Well, on second thought, I guess Vulture is right that Morris is not actually a very good blogger as such.
July 20, 2007
The Google Grid, Broadcasting at 700MHz
Google has committed to bid for wireless spectrum -- as much to influence the direction of the market as to, you know, own spectrum (or so it seems).
And, good news: The direction they want to push it is towards openness.
These days, I find myself less worried about Google's techno-titanic mastery of all data and more excited about its potential as a force for change in public policy and markets. I'm actually really glad they're getting into that game.
links for 2007-07-20
Subscribe to Dani Rodrik
It is stretching my undergrad econ to its limits to understand this post on African economic growth from Dani Rodrik -- and I am using that as an excuse to remind you that he is now writing a blog. His is really a terrifically smart, sane voice to have available unfiltered.
The oppressive frequency of the need to replace the blades in my Gillette Mach 3 finally drove me to desperation this summer. When a pricey box of 20 razor cartridges ran out in a matter of weeks, I began hunting for an alternative. I have found it.
Just like this Ask MetaFilter poster, I was led to the Merkur 1904 stainless steel "Hefty Classic" double-edged safety razor by a post on Cool Tools. After reading the unanimous raves of the MeFirati, I bought the razor, a badger-hair shaving brush, and some shaving cream, and put blade to face.
Wonderful. It's this solid, stubby metal instrument with a delicate platinum blade that bows so gracefully when you screw it in place. Few moments in masculine hygiene are as satisfying as making smooth, perfect rectangles appear on your face where foam and hair had been just before. I'm a full-fledged member of the cult now. My gaudy, plastic Mach 3 is officially retired. Does this make me old-school yet?
July 19, 2007
The State of San Francisco
There's a new article in The Economist about San Francisco -- it's succinct and, I think, mostly correct. This is a fun line:
Yet Kevin Starr, the state's premier historian and a San Francisco native, says that it should really be compared with a more distant place: Monte Carlo.
July 17, 2007
Yeah, maybe mix DVDs really do just belong on the internet: Here's a big collection of music videos that use architecture in interesting ways.
Be sure to watch the Mum video (direct link). Every flock of birds should come with a soundtrack.
There Are Alexandrias Everywhere
David Weinberger points to Open Library, a new project to collect all the world's information about all the world's books. (Rex mentions it too.) Lots of database nerdery involved, and a lovely design.
Related: I used Google's book search to actually read a book for the first time recently. I started online, then just went ahead and downloaded the PDF. It was fun!
July 16, 2007
Prisoner of Conscience
Snarkmarket favorite Rachel Leow reports on the politically-motivated imprisonment of a Malaysian blogger:
Nathaniel Tan, a prominent political blogger, activist and staff member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) was detained incommunicado and was not given any grounds for his arrest, according to Malaysiakini. He was detained by three plainclothed policemen at 4:30 p.m. on 13 July in his office at Phileo Damansara.
According to Malaysiakini, police seized Nat's laptop, CDs, personal computer, and oddly enough, his computer monitor.
Ng Eng Kiat, a colleague and part-time journalist who had been present at the time of arrest, said police had not given a clear reason for Nat's arrest. Even when asked directly, the policemen had assured them that it was not an arrest. They "hanya nak siasat sedikit" (just wanted to chat). Upon complying, however, Nat was, as Jeff Ooi dryly puts it, "spirited away" (that is to say, categorically not arrested).
Tan is still in custody. It's interesting to see an earlier version of the story on Rachel's blog -- in some ways I prefer it.
Because I cannot resist going meta on these things: I like Rachel's work on this a lot because it is citizen journalism in a deeper than usual sense -- not just snapshots from a scene, mutely presented, but a smart, independent analysis of an important story in a situation where the pro media, such as it is, just isn't cutting it.
See also (though less urgently): Off the Bus.
Incidentally: I am reminded of my days writing letters in MSU's chapter of Amnesty International. It's been a while since I checked in with Amnesty... I wonder if they are doing anything new or Web 2.0-y?
The Design of Social Life
Why should we train kids to think like game designers? James Paul Gee says:
[G]ame design is a core way of thinking about the world, because, in fact, social policy is exactly the same thing, how to get certain effects when you combine objects and actions under certain assumptions about goals [...]
Indeed, in our daily lives, when we are thinking proactively, we look at the world as if we could design the objects and actions around us to achieve certain goals, we "game" it. Game design is, thus, akin to the design of social life.
I mostly just like that last line.
Closely related: That new game school in NYC.
And closely related to that: Gamestar Mechanic. Here is part one of the FAQ: "Players do not just take part in a game that was made for them. Instead, they create their own games to play and share, all within a larger MMO experience." Go read about it -- it sounds totally nuts, in the best possible way.
Finally: One of the people working on Gamestar Mechanic is named Alex Games. That is awesome.
The Story of Squonk
I just finished reading the McSweeney's story "The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter," about a circus elephant hanged for murder in a small Tennessee town in the early 20th Century. Brilliant. Affecting, gripping, wonderfully written, and a little bit heartbreaking. It's one of those stories that you Google when you finish reading it, and then come to find out many wondrous things. For example, the story's not entirely fictional. In fact, an entire book has been written about it, attempting to get at the truth behind what happened that day in Tennessee.
And then there's the squonk, a legendary creature from the Pennsylvanian wilds said to dissolve into a pool of tears and bubbles when cornered.
There's a throwaway reference to a ballet, "La Chauve-Souris Dorée," by a choreographer named Plastikoff -- "a rare work," the story says, "in that it celebrated not courtship, but daily love, the often-pale and unnoticed emotions that pass between a man and wife." Google yields no English references to Plastikoff, but "La Chauve-Souris Dorée," or "The Gilded Bat," is the name of a promising story written and illustrated by Edward Gorey.
I love texts that make you want to Google every word. And I love that you can.
July 15, 2007
'Seizing the Opportunity by the Forelock'
The Rule of Reason
Bill Moyers talks to Bruce Fein, a lawyer, and John Nichols, a journalist, about impeachment. Every time Moyers puts something on air it reminds me what "discourse" is actually supposed to look like.
If you didn't see it, the first episode of his new show, about the lead-up to the Iraq war, is gut-wrenching. It's all stuff you know and remember, of course, but it's still pretty terrible to see it all laid out so starkly.
Wow -- this is the best round-up of free fonts I've ever seen. In part because they are actually useful-looking fonts (i.e. not, like, Klingon script).
July 12, 2007
This American Brain
Am excited to report that it is by far the coolest radio show I've ever heard -- in the truest sensory meaning of the word. I think it might be the best radio show in the world. Or in history.
Forgive me. Am caught up in the throes of enthusiasm and hyperbole. But seriously: It's great. Here's why:
- It's about science.
- It's incredibly aggressive with audio montage: dialogue overlaps and spills over, music and sound effects pile up in layers, outtakes and asides shimmer at the edges. The result is astonishing, and dense in the best possible way.
- It has a wonderful vocal style: They've completely rejected the voice-of-god format, as well as the voice-of-casual-god format, and even the voice-of-friendly-NPR-god format, and replaced it with a truly conversational, sometimes contentious tone. Very often, hosts will interrupt each other and say something like: "Wait, what? What does that even mean?"
- Lovely, lilting, IDM-y music.
- Only five episodes per season. This is an amount of media that I can actually process!
I've only listened to a few episodes but my favorite so far is Sleep. It includes: an explanation for the fact that you always sleep strangely on your first night in a new place, dolphins with parallel brains, the scourge of improperly folded proteins... and Tetris dreams.
So, I officially have a gigantic crush on this show -- both because it's good, interesting journalism, and because it's such a palpably new way of doing radio.
July 11, 2007
From a tipster: Peripheral Landscapes, an exposition -- in hot motion graphics format -- of Mexico City's recent history and informal economics. Starts out better than it ends, but pretty rad all the same.
Compare/contrast: the Pulp Fiction typography video.
Zombies in Space! Just Kidding
As William Gibson is to prose, so Danny Boyle is to images.
Check out the new trailer for Sunshine.
The Carbon Tax
Because, you know, everyone has been emailing me asking what I think about a carbon tax. Um.
July 10, 2007
Prediction and Prose
Man, William Gibson is seriously one of the very very best writers working today. I feel like he gets most of his props for his prescient ideas and images, but his prose is near-perfect, too. The only writer I can think of who's sharper and leaner (if you like that sort of thing -- I do) is Ha Jin. That's important: There are sooo many guys in sci-fi who are full of great ideas but whose words on the page are liked flopping, gasping fish.
A Store for Nerds
Just got back from a fantastic wedding in Tampa. Lots to blog. But... for now... CSS New and Used.
July 6, 2007
All I have to say about the iPhone is it sure took Apple long enough to create the wifiPod. :P
July 3, 2007
This Working Library
Jack Stauffacher, designer and printer, on his books:
"Without this working library," notes Stauffacher, "I would have no compass, no map, to guide me through the density of our human condition."
Hmm. Maybe that's what an alethiometer really looks like?
Tell me this has never happened to you waiting for a red light:
Like me, you probably don't associate the traffic lights on Southampton Row with the end of the world. But it was while waiting there in 1933 that the Hungarian polymath Leo Szilard conceived the idea of a nuclear chain reaction, and thus the creation of the atomic bomb.
In the Telegraph, Tibor Fischer continues:
The car contains Szilard and his de facto chauffeur, Wigner (only Szilard would use a future Nobel Laureate as his taxi service). They are trying to find Albert Einstein to convince him of the need to urge the US government to start building an atomic bomb before the Nazis do.
When they finally locate Einstein and outline how chain reactions can be achieved, Einstein comments: "Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht" (I hadnít thought of that). The resulting letter from Einstein to Roosevelt triggers the Manhattan Project. Itís an eerie example of how profoundly one man can influence history.
Someone write this book immediately: a compendium of eureka moments. It should include not just the canonical -- Archimedes in the bath, etc. -- but also the less-famous and, best of all, hitherto-unknown moments. Quantity would be the goal: an epiphany per page, hundreds of them in total, some big, some small.
The goal wouldn't be so much to infer patterns or derive some big Law of Lightbulbs (although you might end up doing both along the way) as it would be to simply create a storehouse of stories about insight... a book that, when browsed, might even generate some new ones as well.
China: Holy shmoley.
I'm no Bill Kristol and a fax machine but honestly I'm kinda weirded out by the vision of a world where America is not le hyperpuissance. Not because I think it's bad... just because I think it's weird.
Update: James Fallows has some good China notes. Favorite part:
A few months ago in his annual press conference for foreign journalists, Premier Wen Jiabao indeed said that democracy was the inevitable future for his country. He just said it might take a century or so to arrive.
July 2, 2007
Neo-Cyberpunk Junta Hipster Fantasia, BAM!
Sort of a Kanye-as-Akira thing. Love it.
The day we are able to make works of journalism this irresistible, democracy will get up and dance.
(You know, I just wrote that, and then suddenly imagined democracy as like one of the back-up dancers in Thriller. Kinda seems right somehow.)
Interview with Alex Kubalsky, a designer of modern Transformer toys:
What would you like to design that hasn't been designed yet?
Just an odd object that transforms into another odd object for no reason. Just so because it looks interesting as it transforms. It is not so much about what it is in a and b - but the path itself is c. The transformation itself is the interesting thing!
While we're at it: original Transformers instruction booklets. For the record, I never used these, and was sooo proud of myself.
Okay, fine, one more thing: You've Got the Touch.
One Big Species
Over in the New York Review of Books, and apropos of nothing, Freeman Dyson talks up our biotech future. It gets pretty utopian towards the end, but it's a scintillating read all the same.
This bit is near the beginning:
[Carl Woese] is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.
Just a theory... but wow, what a theory!
Don't forget: previous biotech madness.
No Caption Needed
No Caption Needed is a new blog about "iconic photographs, public culture, and liberal democracy." Am super-excited about the prospect of a continuing stream of stuff like this. First time I've seen the phrase "visual public sphere" and I love it.