July 31, 2008
Life: Rich with Metaphor
Some anglerfishes of the superfamily Ceratiidae employ an unusual mating method. Because individuals are presumably locally rare and encounters doubly so, finding a mate is problematic. When scientists first started capturing ceratioid anglerfish, they noticed that all of the specimens were females. These individuals were a few inches in size and almost all of them had what appeared to be parasites attached to them. It turned out that these "parasites" were the remains of male ceratioids.
At birth, male ceratioids are already equipped with extremely well developed olfactory organs that detect scents in the water. When it is mature, the male's digestive system degenerates, making him incapable of feeding independently, which necessitates his quickly finding a female anglerfish to prevent his death. The sensitive olfactory organs help the male to detect the pheromones that signal the proximity of a female anglerfish. When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then atrophies into nothing more than a pair of gonads, which release sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream indicating egg release. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that, when the female is ready to spawn, she has a mate immediately available.
July 30, 2008
The Night They Clubbed the Deer
I'm not sure why this Texas Monthly story is so unsettling. The story itself is simple -- four high-school football stars, out goofing off one Friday night, capture and brutally slaughter two deer.
The characters are (for the most part) sympathetic, and aside from a possibly-superfluous Lord of the Flies reference, the author doesn't really stoke the drama at all. It might be the notion that four decent kids can do some completely inexplicable, violent thing, just out-of-the-blue. Or it might be the sensation of looking in on a place usually so far removed from the gaze of the world.
July 29, 2008
Ticket to Ride
Snarkpal Chris Fong writes up some excellent board games on SFGate. If you haven't tried "Ticket to Ride," you're missing out; it's fun for nerds, jocks, and burnouts alike.
July 28, 2008
Lifehack of the Month: Truly Generic Pills
If you're like most people, you purchase Benadryl. A slightly smaller and savvier subset of you will always reach for the drugstore's "generic" counterpart, e.g. Waldryl. Stop this madness, all of you.
As you might know, Benadryl (available at Walgreens.com for $5.29 for a box of 24 capsules) and Wal-dryl ($3.99 / 24 capsules) are otherwise known as "25 mg. of diphenhydramine HCI." Compare. Yes, that is 400 tablets containing 25 mg. of diphenhydramine HCI, for about $10 when you factor in shipping. Once more with feeling:
Benadryl - 22¢ / pill
Wal-dryl - 16¢ / pill
True generic - 2.5¢ / pill
Before you buy any mildly expensive drug over-the-counter, plug its name into Amazon and see what pops up. Many of you may already know all about this, but surely I've delighted someone.
In Search of Shadows
Over in The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz writes about the disadvantages of the elite education as commonly experienced today:
What happens when busyness and sociability leave no room for solitude? The ability to engage in introspection, I put it to my students that day, is the essential precondition for living an intellectual life, and the essential precondition for introspection is solitude.
It's a nicely-written piece, especially in the beginning.
One of Michigan State's signature songs goes, "MSU, we love thy shadows" -- and what a wonderful (if counterintuitive) thing to celebrate about a school: the shadows, the quiet spaces, the free afternoons, the empty paths.
July 27, 2008
July 26, 2008
I had no idea that Kevin Kelly told the first story ever on This American Life. (Read about it in this article.) Probs shouldn't be a surprise. All good things in the world are linked, you know -- it's a massive spiderweb of coolness.
July 25, 2008
The Survival of Investigative Journalism
July 23, 2008
'Basically an Intelligence-Gathering Operation'
I am a huge fan of Amanda Michel and Off the Bus. Nice to see her (and it) get written up in the NYT!
July 21, 2008
Physical Theories as Women
Ah, here's McSweeney's with a piece for the xkcd crowd:
0. Newtonian gravity is your high-school girlfriend. As your first encounter with physics, she's amazing. You will never forget Newtonian gravity, even if you're not in touch very much anymore.
1. Electrodynamics is your college girlfriend. Pretty complex, you probably won't date long enough to really understand her.
What I want to know is... which girl is the theory of luminiferous ether?
July 18, 2008
This is Officially the Opposite of Mortal Kombat
Jenova Chen and company get credit for their simple, intuitive gameplay mechanics -- but honestly, to me it's all about the audio. Their games simply sound better than anything else out there.
July 17, 2008
The New Yorker Can Be Funny!
For some of you, this week's Shouts & Murmurs is the typical bland gimmick repeated ad nauseam. If you're like me, however, it will crack you up.
Quick. Let's come up with a dystopian sci-fi film concept so we can shoot it here.
Franke James has a terrific cross-media comic book style.
July 16, 2008
You Owe The Beatles Your Brain
Super-fun inter-disciplinary trivia: If it weren't for The Beatles, we might not have CAT scans.
The #1 oil-consuming entity in the world is, obviously, the United States.
What's number two?
Robin previously called out Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight for excellent coverage of this campaign season. Now I've gotta lend a hand to the gang at Obsidian Wings, especially Hilary Bok, a.k.a. Hilzoy. It first came to my attention when one of the A-Listers plugged this post about Barack Obama's legislative record. I subscribed, and ever since I've been impressed by the quality of thought, research and analysis there.
Yesterday, for example, Obama and McCain both gave major foreign policy speeches. This generated very typical news coverage and hyper-typical punditry. But it also fortunately generated a typical post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, in which you get the sense that not only did she reserve comment until reading/hearing the speeches in question, but that she understood the deeper mental framework at play behind each speech. She's solidly liberal, but seems to make few assumptions about her audience.
Jobs of the Future
Nice, short interview with Mario Anima, a terrific colleague here at Current.
July 15, 2008
They Are Stars! No, They Are Bugs!
Ahhhh! Jeff Scher's new video on the NYT site is sublime. If you discover a full-screen playback button that I missed... let me know.
It's the Ecosystem, Stupid
Enjoyed the new post from Umair Haque about corporate strategy. Here's the salient bit:
Perhaps the meaning of competitive advantage, when all the games have been played and the gears of the economic machine have finally stopped moving, is this: privatize benefits and socialize costs.
That might have been sustainable in a disconnected, asset-heavy industrial economy. But it cannot hold in a hyperconnected edgeconomy. When all of us can trade ten billion times a day, if everyone's simply trying to claim benefits from everyone else, while shifting costs and risks to everyone else, the result is economic implosion.
One of the big deficits implicit in Umair's critique is long-term thinking. This is almost a cliche by now -- the tyranny of quarterly earnings statements, etc., etc. -- but that doesn't make it any less true. Zero-sum strategy gets a quicker return, and often, it feels more like progress. Non-zero-sum strategy takes longer, feels riskier -- because you see other people growing too! Jeez! Are they winning? Why aren't we winning? -- but pays out better for everybody in the end.
So the question (which I have not even a single speculative answer to) is: How could we craft markets to better reward long-term, non-zero-sum strategy?
Wordwright with the five things that make Batman Batman. His list does not describe all past Batmans: just the good ones.
P.S. In Minneapolis, we saw The Dark Knight being advertised on the side of a Landmark theater. That's right: This movie is simultaneously a summer IMAX blockbuster and an art-house flick. Awesome.
July 12, 2008
I am in Minneapolis, in Matt's apartment. We are listening to Bon Iver. And talking about you.
Photographic evidence of Snarkfestival 2008 to follow.
July 10, 2008
New Kinds of Content
For the last several months I've been obsessed with the idea of whole new kinds of content. We think of text, audio, and video as these sort of basic, irreducible formats -- the very elements of media. But that can't be right. We're still just imitating old, linear forms.
That's why I love Kevin Kelly's concept of vizuality; it points the way towards a new video that's somehow native to the web.
It's still totally abstract at this point; I don't even really know what that means.
But I do know that it bugs me when people talk about "content" as if it's this static substance, fungible and unchanging, as Jeff Jarvis and many of his commenters do here. I left a comment of my own saying as much:
I'd argue that it's deeply old-fashioned to think of newspapers as purveyors of blobs of text, and maybe some video to go along with it, that you can just stick into any ol' CMS system. In fact, I’d say that if, as a news organization, your content fits into any ol' CMS then it’s a warning sign.
Seen any new kinds of content out there lately? Any clues, or pointers in the right direction?
So I'm completely enchanted with the little flurry of activity around Congressman John Culberson. Let our Congress tweet, says Sunlight! "[A] Congressman starting to use Twitter just made our representative democracy real to me" says a Culberson constituent (in the comments)!
I know it sounds hopelessly over-the-top.
But stuff like this -- a once-live Qik video feed from somewhere inside the U.S. Capitol, with Culberson turning the camera around on a Fox News reporter -- gives me a deep civic thrill.
Deeper than Barack Obama, believe it or not; because for as stirring as Obama's speeches are, and for as neat as barackobama.com is, I still feel the undiminished distance. Could our presidential candidates get any more remote? Everybody wants a piece of Obama; everybody wants a glimpse. There are layers of advisors, layers of staff, layers of reporters, layers of bloggers, jeez now layers of barackobama.com users who are more into it than I am!
It's a pyramid, not a mesh.
It's exactly how I felt about traditional news, back when I was considering working at a newspaper or magazine: How disconnected. How distant.
Contrast to John Culberson's tweets and his technical difficulties.
Let me be clear: I am not down with Culberson on the issues. But man do I like his style.
And if I had to pick, right now, whether the future of American government is a smart, sophisticated president consulting with his smart, sophisticated staff and making smart, sophisticated decisions in isolation, or a bunch of Members of Congress twittering live to their constituents and making videos for them and connecting them to each other -- I'll take the nerds in the cloakroom.
That sounds reductive, and it is. Probably irresponsible, too. The truth is that Barack Obama as president is going to affect more people, in deeper and more positive ways, than any number of social-media-powered legislators.
But I really do think the long game looks different.
And now Culberson has forced my hand. I've been sitting on a future-of-politics scenario for a bit, deciding how best to release it into the wild. But reality is moving faster than my imagination (disconcerting!) so I'd better just let you take a look.
The ballad of Matthew Smoot is here. He's a Congressman from Michigan, and as our story begins, he's having a tough time.
I'd love to know what you think.
Culberson update: Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano has an articulate, sensible reply to Culberson. But don't let this meta-scuffle obscure the fundamental coolness of Qik-streaming from Congress.
July 7, 2008
What do we look like?
Electorally, like this.
Linguistically, like this. (It's not red vs. blue America, folks. It's pop vs. soda America. [Coke is another country.])
(Got the religion link from the just-relaunched Interactive Narratives. Aaand there goes the evening.)
Update: I pointed to the wrong version of the religion link! Click it again -- it's even crazier now.
The soundtrack to my life for the past couple of weeks has been "Gobbledigook" from Sigur Ros's new album. You can download it here. Skip the naked-fawns-frolicking video.
Fun fact: Who coined the term "gobbledygook"? None other than Maury Maverick, U.S. Representative and grandson of Sam Maverick, from whom the term "maverick" originated. Now that is a neologistic family.
Head for the Black Diamond
Smart, informative post over on the Transportation Security Administration's blog (I know!) about the new "Diamond Lane Program" that lets travelers self-select into three groups: green (for beginners and families), blue (for intermediate travelers), and black (for road warriors).
I've been through this a few times at different airports and it actually seems to work really well!
I feel like it ought to be a case study in design school, actually: Given the problem, you immediately assume the solution must have something to do with faster machines, or better-trained employees, or lasers or something. And those things might help -- but flipping the script and simply changing the inputs helps a lot, too. Seriously counter-intuitive.
Props to TSA for some good design and public communication to match.
July 3, 2008
Heartfelt Product Endorsement
I love Jott.
Sign up for a free account, give it your email address, and you can call an 800-number anytime, talk into the phone, and have your words instantly converted to text and emailed back to you.
(You can have it sent other places as well, of course -- texted to phone numbers, emailed to other addresses, even posted to Twitter or whatever -- but I use it exclusively for notes-to-self.)
I know, I know, this feels like the kind of thing that sounds great in theory but is somehow fatally flawed in practice. In fact it's great in practice, too -- Jott's voice-recognition software is uncanny.
Highly recommended. Will make you feel like you're living a couple of years in the future.
July 1, 2008
Ze Frank at the Helm
A while ago Ze Frank posted an offer on his blog: Give me your Facebook credentials, tell me a little bit about yourself, and I'll impersonate you for a week.
Obvs lots of people thought this sounded awesome.
One of them was a girl named Christine, who's now documented the experience. Ze didn't do anything crazy -- just sort of poked around, it seems -- but I love love love Christine's final analysis:
and finally, you should know that the week i had off from facebook was probably one of my best weeks in recent memory. i know it sounds absurd, but not being able to spend hours trolling facebook (during work, on my iphone, at home while watching a movie/tv show/talking to my roommates, before i dozed off to bed) left me with so much time to… read. think. run. write. do nothing. etc. in that week, i realized the extent to which i was addicted to this thing - my virtual world of friends and updates and identity molding… things that, during my week off, i didn't MISS, but felt relieved to not have to deal with. when taken away from me, this thing i spent so much time with - my facebook reality (it pains me to have to write thos words) - felt so trivial, meaningless and inconsequential.
Emphasis mine. There's your litmus test, right there. Take it away, and how much does it matter? A lot of the internet -- not all, but a lot -- falls on the lame side of the ledger right now.
I still miss The Show, though.