spacer image
spacer image

March 31, 2004

aaron's thoughts: I studied 'Flow' and other ideas of positive psychology several years ago (in school - now Im gra... >>

Eudaemonia

What's a happy life?

It can be three things, psychologist Martin Seligman says.

There's the pleasant life: the life full of positive emotions. That's the life buoyed by sunshine and smiles and, perhaps, Prozac.

There's also the meaningful life: the life connected to something greater than itself. That's the life devoted to an insitution, a religion, a family, a looong-term project.

And then there's this one:

... [E]udaemonia, the good life, which is what Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle meant by the pursuit of happiness. They did not mean smiling a lot and giggling. Aristotle talks about the pleasures of contemplation and the pleasures of good conversation. Aristotle is not talking about raw feeling, about thrills, about orgasms. Aristotle is talking about [the new-ish psychological theory of flow], and that is, when one has a good conversation, when one contemplates well. When one is in eudaemonia, time stops. You feel completely at home. Self-consciousness is blocked. You're one with the music.

I've been watching these nature documentaries lately and feeling vaguely jealous of all the creatures of the sea. Pardon the tautology, but they behave so naturally. Even fleeing from, you know, ravenous leopard seals, they seem somehow light and free.

And I don't want to get all anthropomorphic, but that's how flow feels. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (or Mihaly C., as I call him), the guy who wrote the book on flow, describes it like this:

The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.

I love that.

Seligman's essay isn't just about eudaemonia; he also talks about a new trend in modern psychology: a push to consider ways to increase happiness, not just ameliorate psychological suffering. It's really interesting, so go print it out and read it tonight.

... Read more ....
Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 31, 2004 at 11:33 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins

Air Hysterica

Janeane Garofalo loses.

Her Air America program has been a long thread of facile partisan canards. Her usual drole, doubt-everything deadpan has been swapped for a much-less-compelling "Republicans are evil" refrain. She even used the phrase "corporate media."

Yeah, yeah, it's the first night, but they've opened with a flurry of publicity, and knowing that this may be their moment in the spotlight before dimming into obscurity, they might have taken the trouble to procure actual content. There's been a mishmash of decently high-profile guests -- Bill Maher, Atrios, Ben (of Ben & Jerry), Dave Chappelle -- but the conversation hasn't stepped beyond slinging mud at conservatives. Not even news peg mud (e.g. "Can you believe they smeared Dick Clarke?") -- generic mud (e.g. "They're corporate whores!").

I haven't had a good experience with talk radio, unless it's This American Life or Sound Portraits. Somehow, even though it's just the first night, I already have deep doubts about Air America raising the level of discourse on the medium.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 31, 2004 at 10:53 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy
Robin's thoughts: I know. I'm totally pissed. The lesson here: eternal vigilance. When you key onto a story ... >>

It's About Time

Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt have fiiinally sealed the deal on Newsworld, the NYO's Joe Hagan reports.

goretv.jpgNewsworld, a digital cable channel, is pretty boring right now. I can corroborate this description:

Currently, Newsworld is a bit like something Bill Murray would flip on in the hotel in Lost in Translation: a two-minute dialogue-free video essay on squirrels, followed by the news about a freak rotating-door accident in a Tokyo shopping mall.

The deal is that the new Newsworld -- which will get a new name -- is going to be a public affairs channel for young people. Gore likes the idea of guerilla news: an army of kids with cheap DV cams, capturing (and editing and uploading and optionally adding a hip-hop soundtrack to) their world.

Here's more:

He was also a big fan of MTVís late-90ís video-diary show, Unfiltered, which inspired him to meet with its creator in 2002 in the hope of producing similar programming himself. In the last year, Mr. Gore began building a rationale for a new television service: In a speech to students at Middle Tennessee State University in November 2003, he spoke of televisionís "quasi-hypnotic influence" on the electorate. "If people are just staring at a little box for four hours a day, it has a big impact on democracy," he said. "We have to choose to rehabilitate our democracy in part by making creative use of these new media and by insisting within the current institutions of our democracy that we open up access to the dominant medium."

Man, I thought I had put this behind me. But now I'm all excited about it again.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 31, 2004 at 9:52 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Gore TV

The End of the World

google.jpg

Google has redesigned. Always humorous to see the folks on MeFi go all headless chicken. Much like they did the last time Google "redesigned" the two words on its home page. Or the time UPS swapped their ugly brown logo for an ugly brown logo. Or -- ack -- the time Poynter Online got prettier.

How is it that with all the drama in the world, we have space in our minds to bug out whenever some company we have little personal connection to changes a font on its website?

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 31, 2004 at 8:22 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

March 30, 2004

IAmKevin

Recommended by Robin, who says, Robin's friend Kevin works for a large software company in Redmond, Wash., but writes mostly about, like, what he had for dinner. Topics: Video games, movies, Kevin's laundry

Comments (0) | Posted: 10:46 AM

If the City Seems Empty This Weekend, Here's Why

I totally want to go to this, and, um, apparently I'm not the only one:

The last time AirFest was held, back in 2001, about 1-million people attended over two days. Organizers are bracing for an even larger crowd this year because of the hiatus...

A million people! Dude, that's forty percent of the entire population of Tampa Bay. Even if you split it up between Saturday and Sunday, and even if everyone's not going to be there at once, that's still a couple hundred thousand people together on one relatively compact square of concrete.

Doesn't the ground start to sink or something?

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 30, 2004 at 12:39 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

March 29, 2004

Thinly Veiled Accusation

Matt says,

Is there a reason that the Boston Herald's Election 2004 page lists only four candidates for the Presidential election -- George W. Bush, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader? If you're going to include Dennis Kucinich, aren't you bound by some statute of journalism law to include Al Sharpton, still in the race with more delegates than Kucinich?

Dodgy.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:41 PM

Entrails for Jesus

Great news, everyone! The 12th book of the incredible Left Behind series is almost out, and this time, Jesus returns! Rock on! Unbelievers may well be discomfited by these books, but that's only because they don't recognize the glory and truth of Our Risen Lord and Savior in passages like the following:

"Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder," the authors write. "Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of God."

Ahem. As a good gay backslid Catholic boy, I just have to take a moment in the wake of this book and The Passion and Jack Kelley and that whole Spanish Inquisition thing to point out that not all Christians are obsessed with lacerated flesh, gushing innards, and/or severed heads and raining limbs. Please don't judge us.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 29, 2004 at 1:54 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

Mourn Not For TV

Is the headline of this NYT article really "Leisure Pursuits of Today's Young Man"?

Clearly the subhed should be "A Comprehensive & Interesting View of His Current Habits & Recreations, Presented With Full-Color Illustrations."

Goofy titling aside, it's a good story -- about young men's media habits -- and check out the weird synchronicity: Warren Spector, who I just linked to below, gets quoted on games and stories.

The best game companies offer something that many say ordinary network television programs have all but given up on: storytelling. A player becomes the hero of the tale, and might be faced with life-or-death situations trying to break and every action has to be thought through.

"We can provide the overarching narrative that makes all of those choices and all of those events meaningful and significant and big," said Warren Spector, the head of Ion Storm, a game company whose wares appeal to young adults more than children. "You throw that together, and you've got something -- maybe revolution is too strong a word -- but you can pull people away from other media."

Sometimes the links just click. Pimpin was never easy till now.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 29, 2004 at 12:32 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture
Matt's thoughts: Or you could take the game design approach of <a href="http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.04/h... >>

I Want 'Holy Crap' Moments

At this year's Game Developer's Conference, Warren Spector, the guy behind the game Deus Ex and others, talked about video games and stories:

For Spector, open-endedness is not the be-all, end-all. As a story design widens out to a free-form system, he argues, the "emergent narrative" (story that's partially created by the player, rather than completely designed by the developer) ends up with a relative lack of direction and emotional resonance. There are fewer exciting, "holy crap" moments, since the narrative can't be designed as easily to flow towards those moments as effectively.

Now, you could make the argument that video games shouldn't be in the business of telling stories at all -- leave that to books and movies, right? From my point of view, at least, games shouldn't just be fancy computerized novels. (Or, you know, if they are, I'll just read the novel instead, thanks.)

But they should be a fancy computerized way of having fun, and it may be that, more often than not, experiencing a well-engineered story is more fun than exploring an open-ended world.

I'd like to hear somebody riff on this. Somebody who, say, defends open-ended video games. I'm looking at you, Matt Penniman!

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 29, 2004 at 12:14 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Video Games

March 28, 2004

A Minor Rekindling

Back in school, I was a huuuge Thomas Friedman fan. "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" was the Bible as far as I was concerned, and I used the term "Golden Straightjacket" with a Golden Straight Face.

Over time, my affinity for Friedman waned; now I'm usually put off by his too-neat analogies.

But his column today really nails it -- and I am again, at least for a day, a Friedmaniac.

But whoah -- what's up with this?

I have this routine. I get up every morning around 6 a.m., fire up my computer, call up AOL's news page and then hold my breath to see what outrage has happened in the world overnight.

Tom Friedman gets his news from AOL??

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 28, 2004 at 8:57 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

March 27, 2004

Matt's thoughts: Dude, are you totally right, or are you totally right? You're totally right. Damn. Long-held misc... >>

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Or, Love in the Age of Alzheimers

Here's a superlative for you: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the cleverest movie I've seen that didn't sacrifice any of its beauty or truth to be so. The movie just clicks together, equally satisfying as an intellectual exercise and an emotional trip. I will not mess with Charlie Kaufman, for he is clearly my master.

Michel Gondry does an excellent job with the material -- and what else would you expect? The man's brilliant! -- but there are a few things I'll fault him for. The headline of my critique reads "Gondry Shows Too Much Restraint." It's subtitled, "Jim Carrey Is Perfectly Serviceable, But Why Not Get An Actor?" Oh, and handheld camerawork needs to be seriously fined by the FCC, 'cause if I leave another frickin' movie with a dull headache, there will be problems.

Most of the restraint works exceptionally well. Where the movie could be flashy, it never is. The gimmicks of the script and camera never feel like gimmicks, or at least you never resent them for being gimmicks, because they serve real emotional purposes. And yet, those purposes are never explicit. Gondry never really pushes to make you laugh or cry or grit your teeth or whatever, and that seems rare. He just paints a picture, and lets Kaufman's story take you where it will. But that approach brings one drawback -- there's no catharsis. When I was finally ready to let go and really approach the movie's core in one big, perfect, emotional moment, Gondry let me down. Maybe this is a personal quibble, and it's pretty minor, but Gondry has the opportunity for one perfect searing moment that would have been so satisfying and affecting, but he doesn't take it. Instead, before the scene reaches any real pitch, Jim Carrey starts doing his "I-am-not-Jim-Carrey" bit, and says, "It's OK," and the scene kind of dribbles away lamely.

Really, though. Carrey did a fine job of not being Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, he clearly expended all his efforts on not being Jim Carrey, leaving very little energy left to act, or inhabit an actual recognizable or empathetic character, or any of that stuff that actual actors have to do. I submit, and Robin will quibble, but I submit that really any genuine dramatic talent could have done a better job in Carrey's role than Carrey, because he would have done something more with it than pretend he wasn't a manic comedian trying desperately to play against type.

OK, except Tobey Maguire, who I believe has genuine dramatic talent, which unfortunately is only good for playing one role. Which unfortunately people keep hiring him to play. And no, I didn't see Seabiscuit. Yes, I'm sure it was a good movie. But so was Wonder Boys and so was Cider House Rules and so was October Sky, and the fact remains that Tobey Maguire has played exactly one role in his overearnest and unassuming career.

Last point: DO NOT READ ANY OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS MOVIE. Seriously. I thought the film critics were revealing minor plot elements, but they were casually dropping endings and major plot twists. I would have enjoyed the movie even more without that foreknowledge.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 27, 2004 at 2:21 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Movies

March 26, 2004

Emotion Machines

This article promises more than it delivers, but it's worth reading anyway. It's about efforts to induce and detect emotion in video game players. The argument is undeniable ó if game consoles could figure out players' emotional responses, they could make games much more effective. The article talks briefly about some experiments at a Scotland university to detect emotion by measuring the force of button depression, for example.

While a game that played off your emotions would be hella cool and probably equally creepy, I think developers need to take it back a step. I haven't played a game in years that drew me in emotionally the way Final Fantasy II (IV in Japan) did a dozen years ago, or old text adventures like Wishbringer years before that. From the games I've played recently, I'd argue that developers need to rediscover the art of story. Then they can talk to me about sophisticated emotion detection systems.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 26, 2004 at 8:25 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark
Kevin's thoughts: wow that's cool. try closing your eyes in between when he says half of them. The sound cha... >>

Your Morning Freak-Out

Sooo it turns out that what you hear is determined in part by what you see. Case in point: the McGurk effect. Languagehat explains it like this:

If your ears register /ba/ and your eyes [register] a mouth saying /ga/, you'll "hear" /da/.

Which doesn't sound that impressive... until you actually try it.

I love brains.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 26, 2004 at 9:47 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

March 25, 2004

Eight Million? That's Nothing

Robin says,

This Reuters story about global urban populations is a reminder that compared to the world's real cities (e.g. Bombay, Sao Paulo) our American cities are all little punks.

Of course maybe this just strikes me because I've been reading "Midnight's Children" and therefore think Bombay is the craziest, coolest city ever.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:10 PM

Photojournalists Rule, Exhibit A

Robin says,

A slideshow from The New York Times: Absenteeism Among Doctors

Dang.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:01 PM

March 24, 2004

A Dean Post-Mortem Worth Reading

We haven't heard the last of the final analyses of Dean's rise and fall, I'm sure, but we've probably gotten the last of the ones you should read, if you're interested in what happened. This is an early-bird edition of an article that will be in May's Atlantic Monthly, and it's written by Dean's own pollster, Paul Maslin.

Maslin writes clearly and evocatively. He takes you through the excitement and the drama of a campaign as well as any journalist I've seen. There's strong foreshadowing, fleshy, warm characters with real flaws, vivid dialogue, structure, you name it.

And what does the article say? Everything that our newspapers probably don't have enough time or access to present: that there was no single, simple reason for Dean's rise and fall. Any campaign is a walk along a greased tightrope, a constant play of gambles and negotiations. Dean's campaign especially was a movement with dense variables swinging every which way -- his Internet base, his volatile campaign manager, the other candidates, Dean himself.

The next thing I'm looking for is Howard Dean's own account of the experience, but I won't hold my breath. Although he speaks his mind constantly, he seems to withhold his feelings. And if his article in Vanity Fair was any indication, he's not much of an absorbing writer. But what a character.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 24, 2004 at 2:48 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Election 2004
Robin's thoughts: What happened next?? Spill it, Pia!... >>

Pure Skill, Exhibit A

So LA Times columnist Steve Lopez crashed his bike, banged his head, had a couple of seizures, and now he has to ride the bus.

I can imagine a writer doing those two columns clumsily, especially the look-I-rode-the-bus-and-met-authentic-people one. But Steve Lopez hits 'em just right.

This is because Steve Lopez rules.

(Thanks to LA Observed for the link!)

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 24, 2004 at 2:24 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism
Sim's thoughts: I just me across your blog through following links on this <a href="http://rezwanul.blogs... >>

A Little Bangla Humor

So I was Googling for Bangladesh links last night (come on, it was a Tuesday) and I found this great site by a young Canadian economist.

And in that great site, I found this great page of Bangla-quotes by Tanya Palit, a Michigan State student who went to Bangladesh a year after I did.

And it is the funniest thing ever. Or, at least my Bangla-buddy Dan and I thought so. But I wonder: Is it funny to anyone else? Say, those who have not been to Bangladesh? Tell me, Snarkmarketeers.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 24, 2004 at 9:51 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

March 23, 2004

ali's thoughts: so, when i wake up at 7am on a sunday, the world seems new and inspiring more than usual, somehow... >>

The Voice Inside (And Just Below) Your Head

'I want a taco...'I don't want to make this into a gee-whiz-lookit-that kinda blog here, but this is so 2001 it hurts:

It turns out that when you read or talk silently to yourself -- you know, the ol' internal monologue -- your brain actually still sends subtle signals to your tongue and vocal cords. They're not strong enough to make you start gabbing, but they are strong enough for a computer to detect. A super-smart NASA computer.

So NASA now has the beginnings of a system to recognize this "subvocal speech," which they will use to, you know, control rovers and stuff.

But mark my words -- mark my words! -- in the year 2025 we're all going to be wearing little dingbats on our necks and mumbling to our cars and cell phones.

(Thanks to Gizmodo for the link!)

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 23, 2004 at 1:50 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

March 22, 2004

Zombie Jamboree

dawnofdead.jpg

Here's what's good about "Dawn of the Dead," George Romero's remake of his own 1978 movie:

  • The instantly-familiar suburban mall setting
  • The movie's first and only rule of zombie engagement: Shoot 'em in the head
  • The stylish "media covers the end of the world" sequence, with requisite super-grainy video (apparently only Playskool My First Cameras function during the Apocalypse)
  • The satisfying A-Team-style "let's build an armored truck using snow shovels and chicken wire" sequence
  • The fact that Ty Burrell looks way too much like Bruce Campbell (classic low-budget horror actor), which led me to believe it was Bruce Campbell, but no, it's this other dude, and somehow the entire situation seems zombie-riffic
  • Fast zombies = scariest ever

And I could come up with some things that are bad, too, but come on. This movie is about undead hordes, not character development.

... Read more ....
Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 22, 2004 at 9:55 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Movies

March 18, 2004

Robin's thoughts: Bah!... >>

The System

ncaa-brack.gif

Apparently the NCAA men's basketball tournament costs U.S. companies millions in lost productivity in the month of March.

It is only appropriate, therefore, that I take a few moments out of my productive work-day to talk brackets.

Now, I am no college basketball grandmaster. I go to ESPN.com once a week to see how Michigan State is doing, but thazzit. Therefore, I cannot rely on actual NCAA expertise as I fill out my tournament bracket.

So instead, I use a set of arbitrary rules! (I am, of course, not alone in this.) Here they are, in descending order of influence. Given two schools:

  1. Alma Mater Clause: If one is MSU, it wins. Otherwise:
  2. Zags Clause: If one is Gonzaga, it wins. Otherwise:
  3. Nerd Clause A: If one has the word 'Tech' in its name, it wins. Otherwise:
  4. Nerd Clause B: If one is in the Ivy League, or is Stanford, it wins. Otherwise:
  5. Public Trust Clause: If only one is a state school, it wins. Otherwise:
  6. If It Must Come To This Clause: The school with the shorter name wins.

And that's it. Hey, pimpin was never easy till now.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 18, 2004 at 12:46 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

March 17, 2004

kevin's thoughts: it's true, donald rumsfeld is a lethal fighting machine. <a href="http://www.poe-news.com... >>

It's Funny Because It's True

I think the most successful Onion articles are the ones that make you go: "Ha ha ha ha! That is hilarious! And yet... not entirely implausible..."

Well, here you go.

I mean seriously, scroll down to Matt's DARPA item and tell me you can absolutely, positively rule out the existence of a super-warrior championship.

That's what I thought.

... Read more ....
Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 17, 2004 at 8:50 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

March 16, 2004

Resolved: To Resolve Something

I posted this on a blog I maintain for work, but I'm kind of amused by it, so I'm reposting here:

Today's story idea is resolutions. The House of Representatives seems to make a lot of them.

So far today, from what I can tell from the current floor summary, the House did this:

They met at 12:30 p.m., had 27 minutes of rollicking "Morning-Hour Debates" (whatever those are), then took a break. Then, they reconvened at 2 p.m., and spent the next 68 minutes debating resolutions. There's one resolution thanking C-SPAN for 25 years of service. One resolution from the Senate permitting the use of the Capitol Building's rotunda for next year's Inauguration Ceremony. Another to rename a Kansas post office the Myron V. George Post Office. Yet another to honor the life and legacy of FDR, it being his 122nd birthday.

Then the House took another break, and they're supposed to reconvene at 6:30, possibly to vote on yet more resolutions.

Tomorrow, according to CQ's Midday Update, the House will consider a resolution to commend our soldiers in Iraq for the good job they've done and assert that the world is safer with Saddam Hussein's regime deposed. (Note: CQ is owned by The Poynter Institute, which owns this website.)

Why all these resolutions? Is this a typical day? Given that there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, each of whom makes a not insubstantial yearly salary, how much does it cost taxpayers to have these folks spend an hour renaming post offices and singing "Happy Birthday" to FDR? How much effort do House staffers spend drawing up these resolutions?

A quick gander at Georgia's list of recent House resolutions shows that state Congresses are probably the same story.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 16, 2004 at 6:16 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

Where Are the Pretty Pictures?

I'm totally grooving on the free KeepMedia RSS feed, which brilliantly includes a few links to old but still-relevant magazine articles every day.

Today, there's a link to one of my favorite Atlantic Monthly articles of all time, a "desktop narrative" from an author exploring all of the super-high-res cosmic imagery available on the Internet.

Except it's totally lame on KeepMedia, because there are no pictures. The whole point of this article was that it was printed alongside the pictures: stars, planets, supernovae. And there's no reason you couldn't do that on the web; it's just that all these archiving systems -- seriously, like all of them, from Lexis-Nexis to the NYT -- toss images, graphics, and layout aside like so much stale garbage. Whazzup with that?

Anyway, here's a picture of outer space:

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 16, 2004 at 10:07 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy

March 15, 2004

Robin's thoughts: Also, apparently Anderson Cooper is a DARPA project. And speaking of CNN, did you hear th... >>

DARPAranoid

After I read this Wired article, I was grooving on DARPA for a good little while. If you haven't heard about DARPA's Grand Challenge, here's the dish. They posted a prize of $1 million for any engineering team that could make an unmanned vehicle capable of driving from L.A. to Las Vegas. The Grand Challenge was a race for all the qualifying vehicles, to see which was the best.

Such a great idea, right? There's no way to spark innovation like a contest. The favored teams would all spend two and three times $1 million to build their vehicles anyway, so this was all about the thrill and prestige of victory. And DARPA could pick and choose from all the technological wonderworks these teams would dream up to make something truly revolutionary.

And on top of it all, DARPA's Grand Challenge website was fun and happy-looking; not at all what you'd expect from some stuffy government project. The FAQ included down-home humor, like: "it is expected that most teams will modify existing off-road vehicles for the Challenge, although who knows what could slither or crawl across the starting line."

Well, the race was Saturday. None of the vehicles got even eight miles past the starting point. So, it was kind of a bust. But good times were had.

Still kind of grooving on DARPA ... until I read this article. Eerie reminder of Total Information Awareness. Reports of DARPA's plans to build a giant floating surveillance blimp to watch entire cities and track individual civilians. And, creepiest of all (to me at least), notes about DARPA's research into technology that can grow and heal itself.

The rational, naive side of me says, "No, this is good. Self-repairing humanoid machines can clearly only be used for totally benign purposes, and will of course remain at all times under human control, despite DARPA's efforts to produce military technology that can mimic humans' heuristic capacities and awareness of their environment." The even more rational, and now utterly paranoid, side of me says, "The Terminator is now governing California."

Step three: panic!

UPDATE:Another article on DARPAranoia.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 15, 2004 at 9:40 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

March 14, 2004

More Lofty Presidential Discourse

I ought to start tracking the your-mother jokes being tossed back and forth in the Presidential election. Here's one from The Washington Post:

"SEN. JOHN KERRY's Economic Policies Would Cost Jobs in Ohio," a headline on the Bush campaign Web site asserts. "The most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen," Mr. Kerry says of his Republican adversaries. "Sen. Kerry Flip-Flops on Israel," says the Bush campaign. "Once again, George Bush is misleading America," a Kerry advertisement charges. "So's your mom," says -- no, wait. We haven't seen that one yet.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 14, 2004 at 9:28 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Election 2004

March 13, 2004

Kevin's thoughts: Sky Captain looks really good. It's Iron Giant-style in live action. I'm really looking forward... >>

Amorphous Blob of Nothing Makes Good

If you'd written off the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow after seeing the trailer, dust off your interest and read this preview, from the NYT Magazine. Not only does the movie sound excellent, the article's a blast, too:

For [Kerry Conran, creator of Sky Captain], the question, as he put it, was ''Could you be ambitious and make a film of some scope without ever leaving your room?'' And so 10 years ago, Kerry Conran went into a room in his apartment to make a movie. In some ways, he is just now beginning to come out of it.

At first, he was a mystery. Word of ''Sky Captain'' began to spread around the Internet only after Conran finished primary shooting in London last spring -- extraordinarily late for the Internet, which often seems invented specifically to track movies with giant robots in them. Even then, no one knew who Kerry Conran was. Google couldn't touch him. He was so undocumented in the world of Hollywood that I briefly wondered, when I began pursuing him, if perhaps he was just a front for his producer and partner and mentor Jon Avnet, who is well known for producing ''Risky Business'' and directing ''Fried Green Tomatoes'' but who is not so well known for retro-science-fiction summertime blockbusters, and who unlike Conran seems to have been photographed at least once in his life. I don't think Conran would mind that I doubted his existence. In fact, for a long time, that was the plan.

Conran created the entire universe of the movie using computers. I mean, I guess it's not that rare in the age of Pixar, but the live actors involved (including Gwyneth, Jude, and Angelina) worked in front of blue screens the entire time. That seems big, somehow.

They can do anything here. When one of Paltrow's arms was cut out from a shot, they copied the other one, flipped it and pasted it back in. Since all the lighting was being done on the computer, they could paint the frame with light and noirish shadows, erase it all and then start again.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 13, 2004 at 11:51 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Movies

March 12, 2004

Clive's thoughts: ahahahah!... >>

Pimpin Large

Clive Thompson recently discovered a crazy light-up watch and linked to it. I checked it out, and what caught my eye wasn't the flashy blue LEDs; it was the promotional copy:

Now what really makes this watch stand out, is the light up feature, the watch lights up every light in a spiral and then off in a spiral every 2 minutes. Super flashy and you will be Pimpin large. Pimpin was never easy till now. Grab one and see for yourself. There is nothing like it.

"Pimpin was never easy till now." I love that. And I have a feeling it's got legs. Let's pull up a random piece of Land's End apparel and try out our new catch-phrase, shall we?

Men's Cashmere Vest

We use only top-grade white cashmere from the Kashmir goats raised in Inner Mongolia. Their downy undercoat hairs are the finest, strongest and most pure. We insist on using two-ply yarns, twisted just enough to add strength and prevent unsightly pilling (a process we're continuously improving). It's the best way to give you a plusher, more substantial sweater that lasts. Pimpin was never easy till now.

Success! And now, to prove the pimptastic power of this new all-purpose marketing slogan, let's surf on over to JCPenney.com...

Chandelier With Toile Shades in Blue or Black

An old favorite makes a triumphant return -- toile is the home decorating must-have of the moment. Scrolling metal base with burnished bronze finish. Can be used with or without shades. 22" H. 24" diameter. 36" chain. Uses five 60W bulbs, max. (not included). Some assembly required. Imported from China. Pimpin was never easy till now.

I think you see what I'm talking about. This thing is the penicillin of pimpology.

And, as a proponent of open source pimpware, I am making it immediately available in the public domain. Pimpin was never easy... till now.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 12, 2004 at 10:30 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

March 11, 2004

Tim's thoughts: I like Thomas Friedman, but he does have an MO that sometimes makes him a little obnoxious: conve... >>

Software's Promise

Thomas Friedman writes about the Indian software industry today, calling the confluence of factors that came together in the late '90s to pump up Indian IT a -- get ready for it -- "techno-cultural-economic perfect storm."

But India wasn't the only country that got caught up in it. In Bangladesh in 2001, the IT craze was in full swing: Bright yellow banners promised Visual Basic certification on every street corner. Young Bangladeshi men and women packed Java programming classes. A brand-new office building had just gone up, aiming to be Bangladesh's first real IT park.

Bangladesh had only a few outsourcing firms -- nothing compared to the industry in India, which was already huge -- but they were enthusiastic. And they do were doing business not only with the United States, but with Scandinavia and the rest of Asia, especially Malaysia, which was undergoing an IT craze of its own.

Since then, India's IT sector has continued to grow, obviously. I'm not sure if Bangladesh's has. I'd be curious to know if yellow banners still festoon the streets, or if the young people of Bangladesh have moved on to some other dream.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 11, 2004 at 10:31 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

'Printing' Houses, Layer by Layer

This sounds rad:

A robot for "printing" houses is to be trialled by the construction industry. It takes instructions directly from an architect's computerised drawings and then squirts successive layers of concrete on top of one other to build up vertical walls and domed roofs.

It'd be like a mud hut for the 21st century. A really, umm, laborious and complicated mud hut. But it could have weird, curvy walls!

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 11, 2004 at 10:22 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

March 10, 2004

Fond Memories of Bill Clinton

Matt says,

We forget sometimes what a ridiculously amazing speaker Bill Clinton could be. If the man didn't have so many serious character flaws, despite the fact that his Presidency's successes, whatever they were, have been mostly frittered away and his failures amplified, I'd seriously consider handing the dictator-for-life baton over, just on the strength of his speeches. No other politician can do that to me. I hate it when politicians speak. Their words are so cheap. But his are so wonderful. Bleh. Just read the incredible speech. (Via MY.)

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:47 PM
Robin's thoughts: I've got to say -- per a smart e-mail I received recently -- that I'm leery of journalism predica... >>

A D.C. Salon Opens Up

Salon is opening up a new bureau in Washington, D.C., under the direction of Sidney Blumenthal:

"The country wants and needs unintimidated news," says Blumenthal. "The Bush administration has put enormous political pressure on the press not to probe its radical policies and their consequences. Salon intends to be fearless." Under Blumenthal's leadership, Salon's new Washington bureau will produce a flow of revealing stories about the Bush administration and the election.

How are they planning to penetrate the famously secretive White House? I mean, come on, this is Salon. It's being run by the former press secretary of Bill Clinton. And they've clearly stated their intention to air President Bush's dirty laundry. Any "senior administration official" caught talking to them will be disembowled, lightly seasoned, and fed to Karl Rove for brunch.

Maybe they're hoping to find more people like this former Pentagonian.* Maybe Sidney Blumenthal will discover what Dana Milbank could not. At any rate, they must think they're going to get something. I'm interested.

Also -- dude. A new Salon bureau? But isn't Salon dead?

Maybe I'll fire off an e-mail to my buddy Sid and get to the bottom of it.

... Read more ....
mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 10, 2004 at 6:12 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism
Matt's thoughts: Damn you, Robin. I navigated to that second link and got ensnared in the hypnotic thrall of Andro... >>

Sing-Song

We have discussed Anderson Cooper in these pages before. A piece from the New York Observer (I love/hate their salmon-colored pages) on the AC includes this graf:

Mr. Cooper is a good anchor, and itís because of his ear for tonal range. "To me, the important thing is to not cover the Grammys with the same sense of urgency" as the hard news, said Mr. Cooper. Itís the anchor pitfall -- like the famously mocked "poetry voice," there is anchor voice. While it may be as comforting as codeine cough syrup, eventually it becomes a sick stream of meaninglessness stridency, death made palatable over Americaís Lean Cuisine dinners.

I think that is the first time I've seen "anchor voice" -- the worst! -- described in print. I gotta watch this show and see if Cooper actually doesn't use it.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 10, 2004 at 10:23 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

March 9, 2004

Goodness From the World of Linguistics

The old Lingua Franca is dead. Long live the new Lingua Franca. The two have nothing to do with each other, to be sure. The old Lingua Franca was a magazine about academia. The new LF is an Australian radio show about language, and it's phenomenal. To wit, a defense of the art of euphemism:

As you mature and leave behind childish things, it's important to learn how not to say what you mean. For a start, saying what you mean presupposes that you actually know what you mean (increasingly unlikely as you grow older, particularly when you reach your 'golden years' as we all say). Apart from that, it's quite simply dangerous. As any ape knows, sending a clear signal about what you mean can get you killed in no time at all. Not having language, apes groom each other instead as a way of saying, 'I'm on your side, I think you're wonderful; here, let me just get that tick out of your hair, and you know, if there's the odd baboon cutlet going around when you've finished eating, do toss it my way, if it's not too much trouble.' If you're very, very nice to an alpha male chimpanzee, he might even let you fondle his scrotum.

Not all the episodes have full transcripts or recordings, but many do. Do go and have a look around the site.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 9, 2004 at 11:03 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

March 8, 2004

Robin's thoughts: Ooh, I like that study. They're very... >>

A Boy and His Blog

I'm grooving on these frequent, article-length, well-reported Campaign Desk articles. This one's particularly interesting.

Political blogs are mostly written by men, it turns out. While this is hardly news to me, it's odd how rarely I've stopped to think about it. Tara McKelvey and Garance Frank-Ruta represent over at TAPPED, but otherwise, I don't read any female political bloggers on a regular basis. So now I just feel vaguely unsettled. Besides Wonkette!, where are the female-written political blogs?

Note that despite women's absence from the political blogosphere, even in the Campaign Desk article Kathleen Hall Jamieson continues her unchallenged hegemony over the realm of Random Sources, commenting on everything from women's thoughts on the rodeo to the impact of talk radio.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 8, 2004 at 5:12 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

Hearing History

Matt says,

How can you not love the Beeb?

Any interest in hearing Ravi Shankar speak? How about Andy Warhol? Gandhi? Nabokov? Woolf? Yeats?

Take your pick.

(Via E-Media Tidbits.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:59 PM
Haley's thoughts: My name is Haley and i have to write a paper on the smells of spring and i need help with some th... >>

The Sweet Smells of Spring

<DREAMY RECOLLECTIONS>

Last night, I was reading "Perdido Street Station" on the couch as a warm-ish breeze rolled in through the open door, carrying the smell of smoke in from somewhere -- maybe clear across the Big Bayou.

This morning, the Key was snapping with the cool smells of burned-off fog and fresh-cut grass as I wound my way to work.

Both times, I thought: Yes, I would like this to last forever, please.

</DREAMY RECOLLECTIONS>

What is it about smells?

Actually, that's a rhetorical question, because I know exactly what it is about smells: Olfaction is our most ancient sense, and it is wired deeper into our brains than any of the others. Waaay back in the day I did a whole project about this.

The point is, it's not just dreaminess that lends special import to familiar smells (although dreaminess cannot, of course, be discounted): They affect us on a deeper level, and may in fact be more directly associated with memory, than any other kind of sensory input.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 8, 2004 at 10:17 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

March 7, 2004

Divine Inspiration

Wow. Johnny Depp as Jesus. That's brilliant!! I already feel ministered to.

Who else would make a good Jesus?

  • Viggo Mortensen ... I mean, he basically just played Jesus three times already, right?

  • Sean Penn ... This would be interesting. Crazy psycho supermasculine Jesus with an astonishing soft side.

  • Julianne Moore ... She can play anything.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 7, 2004 at 5:21 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Movies

Burning Down The New York Times

The strangest book review appears in The Washington Post for Jayson Blair's new book, Burning Down My Master's House. Maybe one-fourth of it actually reviews the book, half of it is nanny-nanny-boo-boo WaPo vs. NYT one-upsmanship, and another fourth is a pretty unenlightening psychoanalysis of Jayson Blair.

The review starts with a shot of bitter scorn at the NYT -- "Newspapers and television stations across the nation follow its lead," the author writes. "This state of affairs, in a nation that sees itself as the capital of free markets, is appalling, but it is the reality of the news business." Later in that paragraph, the author says, "We shouldn't dismiss [Blair's] allegations just because the people currently running The New York Times tell us to (as they recently did in a news article on their own pages)." Their own pages!!

The very next sentence pats the WaPo on the back for breaking the Jayson Blair story. And I mean, that clearly had to come at some point in this story, but it seems like a bit of a cheap shot right here. The rest of the review is spent making the case on the one hand for trusting Jayson Blair's words whenever he casts the NYT in the worst possible light, and on the other hand for not trusting Jayson Blair's words at all when it comes to his account of his feelings and motivations.

Maybe the weirdest part is that this book review has gotten probably the most play any review ever will on the WaPo website. I understand there's a rivalry here, but is it supposed to be this obvious?

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 7, 2004 at 4:32 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

March 5, 2004

It's Like Ranger Rick

Ohhhhhh!!!

My request: More cute animal pictures on the front page of NYTimes.com!

(There was some story to go with it, too.)

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 5, 2004 at 9:04 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

March 4, 2004

Statistically Significant

I'm a big fan of this story (part of a series) about shoddily-built homes in Orlando. I like it because the Orlando Sentinel and WESH-TV, with help from the University of Central Florida, have actually done a statistically significant study. It's news based on the aggregation of data, not anecdotes, which is rarer than it ought to be.

Also, this infographic of how a house gets built is pretty cool. Except, I gotta tell you, we don't build 'em like that in Michigan. Cement walls? What?

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 4, 2004 at 10:22 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

March 3, 2004

Just Think of the Children!

Matt says,

From The New Yorker, here's a "pro-family" argument I can get behind.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:53 PM

March 2, 2004

Move Over, Atkins

From The Onion:

New Nietzschean Diet Lets You Eat Whatever You Fear Most

Fat Is Dead, proclaims the ambitious title of the dense, aphoristic nutrition plan, which was written by Friedrich Nietzsche in the late 1880s and unearthed three years ago. After reaching bestseller lists in Europe, the book was translated into English by R. J. Hollingdale and published by Avon last month.

"One must strive to eat dangerously as one comes into the Will to Power Oneself Thin," Nietzsche wrote. "What do you fear? By this are you truly Fattened. You must embrace your Fears, as well as your Fat, and learn to Laugh as you consume them, along with Generous Portions of Simple Salad. Remember, as you stare into the lettuce, the lettuce stares also into you."

Me, I'm on the Hegelian Diet, a dialectic between seven-layer nacho dip and Baked Lays.

(Thanks to Tim for the link!)

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 2, 2004 at 10:53 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

March 1, 2004

Three Grafs of Goodness

All hail the BoGlo Ideas section!

Sunday brought us three grafs on multicultural marriage by Joshua Glenn.

The middle graf:

According to a statement from the executive board of the 11,000-member American Anthropological Association, more than a century of cross-cultural anthropological research provides "no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution." Instead, anthropologists have concluded that "a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies."

Now, I -- as someone who is perhaps too credulous of basically all claims originating at a university -- think this sounds totally legit. I can imagine some people taking issue with the spirit of this statement, though:

"People tend to rank their own culture as best, but anthropologists try to take a broader view," said Brumfiel.

Uncharitable translation: Anthropologists are amoral relativists with no values. None.

I am not qualified to comment on the issue of cultural or moral relativity. I am, however, qualified to give props to the BoGlo for their continued excellent use of nugget-sized stories in the Ideas section. Three grafs is all you need, baby!

Robin-sig.gif
Posted March 1, 2004 at 5:44 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Fairy-Tale Marriage
Ryan's thoughts: It's all so clear to me now. Thanks.... >>

"Breck Girl" Explained

Have you, like me, been baffled by the constant references to John Edwards as "Breck girl"? It's probably something from before my time. Anyway, these are the Breck girls:

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 1, 2004 at 5:04 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Election 2004
the a-mackster's thoughts: Yeah, I read this article just tonight in a coffee shop. Having been involved with greenpeace a ... >>

Truth or Treason?

Environmentalism is one of those crazy issues where the "conservative" position is the most progressive. "Liberal" environmentalists go on and on about the need to preserve the status quo, while "conservative" corporatists want to dash headlong into all manner of genetic experimentation and wildlife restructuring without considering the potential effects.

I started this article because I thought it might give me an insight into the mind of a moderate, someone who balances both sides. It's about Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, a self-proclaimed rational environmentalist, who currently advocates for the genetic modification of food and against regulation of things like PVC production.

It's an interesting article, but I didn't come away thinking of Patrick Moore as a moderate, even though the article was quite sympathetic to him. He is not well-liked by environmentalists (a former Greenpeace director calls him a "corporate whore, an eco-Judas, a lowlife bottom-sucking parasite who has grown rich from sacrificing environmentalist principles for plain old money"). And he is apparently quite well-supported by organizations who probably don't have the best interests of the planet at heart. So I take Moore's brand of environmentalism with a heaping teaspoon of salt. But I'm also not very swayed by opponents of GM food.

Basically, I'm just confused.

mthompson-sig.gif
Posted March 1, 2004 at 2:27 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture
spacer image
spacer image