March 31, 2006
But in the meantime, I like this: Jane Pinckard dubs El Bulli grub nerd food. In other words: Isn't it cool that El Bulli concerns itself so fully with experimentation and imagination instead of just, say, organic simplicity?
Here in the Bay Area, we live under a tyranny of Alice Waters - a benevolent dictatorship, to be sure, full of good intentions, but her basic philosophy, which has since spread to all parts of the U.S., strictly stipulates that food is naturally good and ought not to be tampered with more than necessary. Good, high quality food can shine best with minimal handling. Her techniques evince a deep respect for the natural structures of meat, vegetables, pastas, spices, and so on. Her food is delicious, and her work with farmer's markets and school's eating programs are very deservedly much admired.
But surely there's got to be good, healthy food that looks forward, too. El Bulli shows the way.
Roll Your Own
Good Tiled Background Images
Pixel patterns, where have you been all my life?
March 30, 2006
Red Badge of Verbiage
Every subculture has its code-words and pass-phrases. One that I particularly revile is "blood and treasure," a favorite of warrior-politics neocons. It's handy, actually, because anytime anybody says something like "You cannot expect Americans to spend blood and treasure blah blah blah" with a straight face, you automatically know they are not credible.
I'm not even going to link to the place where I just saw it because it's so vile. Anybody know the etymology of the phrase, though? I just did some quick Googling but didn't find any leads.
Another angle: What are some other classic subcultural code-phrases?
"I'm familiar with the argument" is one I hear a lot in academic and quasi-academic circles, and always seems to be sending a meta-message. Any others spring to mind?
March 28, 2006
Three years ago, in a spectacular issue of The Atlantic Monthly ("The Real State of the Union," done in partnership with the New America Foundation), Ray Boshara wrote a fascinating proposal. What if we gave $6,000 to every American citizen at birth, and invested that money in a safe portfolio until the citizen grew old enough to use it?
Wealth inequality in the US, Boshara pointed out, is much greater even than income inequality:
By the close of the 1990s the United States had become more unequal than at any other time since the dawn of the New Deal—indeed, it was the most unequal society in the advanced democratic world. The top 20 percent of households earned 56 percent of the nation's income and commanded an astonishing 83 percent of the nation's wealth. Even more striking, the top one percent earned about 17 percent of national income and owned 38 percent of national wealth. In nearly two decades the number of millionaires had doubled, to 4.8 million, and the number of "deca-millionaires"—those worth at least $10 million—had more than tripled, from 66,500 to 239,400.... Read more ....
March 27, 2006
Knew He'd Be There
What's that you say? You could really use a night-vision glimpse of M. Thompson right about now? 2:38 y'all!
Video from Rex Sorgatz's farewell party in MN. Can't wait to see what he gets up to at Microsoft.
Michael Pollan and the Modern Hunt
Powers of Ten... Or, You Know, a Gazillion
galaxy nebula that looks like a double helix. Cool. That's all.
March 24, 2006
Why haven't I seen the Web 2.0 Mashup Matrix before? It's great! You can just go through and instantly see what two Web-2.0-y things haven't been mashed up yet, and have at it. E.g. noone's put together Del.icio.us and EVDB yet! Here's your chance to get angel funding!
March 23, 2006
You Don't Have Time For This.
There is nothing socially redeeming about the game Dad 'n' Me. It is violent, pointless, endless, and addictive. There's not even the ironic, hipster sheen that normally comes with playing video games past the age of 17. Why would you want to throw your life away at such a young age? Do not click here and play this game, because it will actually rot your mind. I link to it merely to warn you away.
The Fast and the Curious
Clearly you, too, are wondering when the movie trailer mashup meme is going to die. But I still have to link to this one. Partly because it's well-done, but mostly because there's a shout-out to my favorite critic, "Chester Munro."
March 22, 2006
A Sturdy Footbridge
On Tuesday I gave a speech at my old high school to welcome a new crop of inductees into the National Honor Society. (I was president of the school's chapter back in '97-98.) The text is in the extended. I love giving lofty, abstract commencement-ish speeches more than just about anything in the whole wide world.... Read more ....
Drove to Chicago / All Things Know, All Things Know
Appearances often deceive, but, in one respect at least, the visitor's first impression of Chicago is likely to be correct: this is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality.
You know, I gotta say, Chicagoans past and present are more passionate about their town than any other group of city-dwellers I've met. (And there are a lot of Bay Area zealots here in SF, so that's saying something.)
Alas, if only it wasn't THE COLDEST PLACE ON EARTH in the winter.
March 20, 2006
Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005
If you enjoy the articles below, I imagine you'll consider subscribing to the periodicals that published them, or at least buying The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005, where they're all assembled. Enjoy.
- The American Scholar: My God Problem, by Natalie Angier
- The New Yorker: Hollywood Science, Connie Bruck
- The New York Review of Books: Out, Damned Blot!, Frederick Crews
- The New York Review of Books: Twilight at Easter, Jared Diamond
- Popular Science: My Little Brother on Drugs, Jenny Everett
- The New York Review of Books: Stumbling Into Space, Timothy Ferris
- The New Yorker: Getting Over It, Malcolm Gladwell
- The New Yorker: Personality Plus, Malcolm Gladwell
- The New Yorker: The Grief Industry, Jerome Groopman
- The New York Times: Keeping the Faith in My Doubt, John Horgan
- Wired: The Homeless Hacker vs. The New York Times, Jennifer Kahn
- Discover: 20,000 Microbes Under the Sea, Robert Kunzig ($) The Atlantic Monthly: A Two-Planet Species?, Wililam Langewiesche ($)
- The New York Review of Books: Crossing the Red Line, Bill McKibben
- Esquire: Please Stand By While the Age of Miracles Is Briefly Suspended, James McManus
- The New York Review of Books: Getting in Nature's Way, Sherwin B. Nuland
- Wired: To Hell and Back, Jeffrey M. O'Brien
- The New Yorker: The X Prize, Ian Parker ($)
- The New York Review of Books: In the River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks
- The New Yorker: Miracle in a Bottle, Michael Specter
- Scientific American: The Curious History of the First Pocket Calculator, Cliff Stoll ($)
- The American Scholar: Dining with Robots, Ellen Ullman ($)
- Popular Science: 106 Science Claims and a Truckful of Baloney, William Speed
- Discover: Whose Life Would You Save?, Carl Zimmer
$ = subscriber-only. Here's 2004.
"It's like a search engine... except... big."
(How much do you love that home page, though? The box COMPELS you to type.)
March 19, 2006
The Dark Knight Returns, Again
I'm reading Batman: Year 100 (issues #1 and #2 are out; #3 and #4 still on their way) and liking it a lot. The plot is sparse, and so is the linework -- writer/artist Paul Pope has a style that's half Frank Miller, half manga, and honestly a little Bob Kane-y too.
Here's Wired's interview with Pope; that's what tipped me off to this series in the first place.
Bought my copies at SF's incomparable Isotope.
To Get Ahead in China... Become a Geologist?
For the longest time I have wondered: Who runs China? How do you come to be the leader of a quasi-communist autocratic state? George Bush's path to power I get. Kim Jong-il's I get. But this guy? It's not election... it's not family succession... what is it?
I finally found the book with all the answers.
And it turns out China is basically like... General Electric? The current crop of leaders are all engineers. China has put the cult-of-personality thing behind it, and is now deep into an era of enthusiastic technocracy. The rising generation is made up of people whose young lives were bisected by the Cultural Revolution -- people who value education because it was denied to them. And they've advanced through the government based on connections made at school. Simple corporate politics -- but this corporation is a country.
And China really is organized like a classic Death Star megacorp. This month's Foreign Policy (favorite magazine!) has an article enumerating all the ways in which the country is still incredibly centralized. For instance:
In 2003, the state controlled $1.2 trillion worth of capital stock, or 56 percent of the country’s fixed industrial assets.
There are only 40 private firms among the 1,520 Chinese companies listed on domestic and foreign exchanges.
It's a parade of startling statistics. Bottom line: No surprise that China is nervous about the internet. The radical decentralization of the web is like antimatter to China's almost unbelievably centralized government. Which is basically composed entirely of former nuclear physicists and civil engineers. Now you know.
World of Wallstreetcraft
It's tongue-in-cheek but I like it: Sun says they power the world's biggest multiplayer online game.
It's the stock market.
March 18, 2006
Gah! On heels of news that The Atlantic Monthly's circulation is the now lowest it's been since the late 80s comes this: Their absolute A+ ace reporter William Langewiesche is leaving for a job at Vanity Fair. And -- maybe even worse -- managing editor (and soul of the Atlantic) Cullen Murphy is out, too. His short travelogue this month on Hadrian's Wall (subscribers only, sadly) is classic Atlantic. In other words: totally unexpected and totally smart.
March 16, 2006
My Personal Supermap
Via Unmediated, the GPS-enabled TrackStick has a very limited, but possibly very interesting function: "It tracks where it goes, and it remembers where it's been." Although Telespial Systems, the company behind TrackStick, seems to be most excited about its snooping potential -- Spy on your kids! Watch your employees! -- I love the idea that I could keep it in my pocket for a few months and produce an incredibly detailed map of my life.
March 15, 2006
Anytime this Greasemonkey script sees a price written in U.S. dollars on a Web site, it adds the current equivalent value in barrels of crude oil. I'm going to enable it for a while and see if it heightens my awareness of what "the price of oil rose $4 a barrel" means in everyday terms, or if it just annoys me. (Greasemonkey? Infosthetic.)
March 14, 2006
Infinite Storage? Here You Go
Whoah. So apparently it's the Amazon Grid. No consumer-ish interface but it seems like it would be, like, a day's work for a web developer to make one.
The Dorkiest (And Most Awesome) Thing I Have Ever Seen
March 12, 2006
State of the News Media 2006
Nicholas Carr has a run-down of an Economist article about Quaero, the European public/private search engine project:
The effort's "stunningly ambitious" technological goals, writes the Economist, "show that Quaero is intended to be far more than just another would-be Google, but a leap forward in search-engine technology." Quaero is, for instance, being designed to allow images and sounds to be used as search terms, in addition to traditional keywords [...]
That sounds cool! And in the wake of a few too many underwhelming new offerings from Google, this rings true:
One thing Quaero has going for it is focus: While Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all have complex business interests extending well beyond search, Quaero does not. It has the kind of clean slate that Google had ten years ago when it came to life in a university.
Hey, shades of Regulating Search here: Maybe there's something to be gained by thinking of search engines as utilities, with the same kind of public/private DNA.
Tamil TV, Anybody?
Dude! Kaleil from Startup.com has a new gig: JumpTV. He cuts deals with broadcasters in foreign countries (and not just the nice ones, either -- think Iran, Uganda, Bangladesh) and then stream their channels through the internet for anybody who wants to subscribe. It's fun to click around and look at all the (often bizarre) previews.
March 10, 2006
I gotta find a good biography of Einstein. Everytime I come across some throwaway musing by the guy I am stunned. Case in point:
One of the strongest motives that lead persons to art or science is a flight from the everyday life. With this negative motive goes a positive one. Man seeks to form for himself, in whatever manner is suitable for him, a simplified and lucid image of the world, and so to overcome the world of experience by striving to replace it to some extent by this image. This is what the painter does, and the poet, the speculative philosopher, the natural scientist, each in his own way. Into this image and its formation, he places the center of gravity of his emotional life, in order to attain the peace and serenity that he cannot find within the narrow confines of swirling personal experience.
Interesting to imagine the crazy paint-splattered-on-the-walls artist as someone actually fleeing the real world, daubing together a bridge into some neater mental universe.
P.S. You should subscribe to Chip Scanlan's blog; it's good!
Tornado - Tornado - Panther
(Via Saheli, who brings it up by way of Shahrukh and Bollywood. Let me just add that I think Saheli's read on our shared obsession with mass choreographed dance numbers is exactly correct. Most recent fix: the Mushaboom video [33MB .mov].)
What Is Journalism?
A post on MicroPersuasion this morning reminded me of something I ran across a few months ago I thought was amusing and revealing. It's the definition of "journalism," from the 2000 American Heritage Dictionary:
1. The collecting, writing, editing, and presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines and in radio and television broadcasts.
2. Material written for publication in a newspaper or magazine or for broadcast.
3. The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.
4. Newspapers and magazines.
5. An academic course training students in journalism.
6. Written material of current interest or wide popular appeal.
March 9, 2006
For the first week since I've been keeping track of it, Firefox is more popular than Internet Explorer with visitors to Snarkmarket (for the week beginning March 1 and ending March 8). 46.64% of visitors over the past week used FF, compared with 41.24% who used IE. IE won out by a slight margin (44.56% to 42.85%) over the month from Feb. 8 to Mar. 8, but FF is trending up:
1/11-2/8: IE (49.25%), FF (39.07%)
12/14/05-1/11: IE (47.97%), FF (39.71%)
11/16-12/14: IE (51.7%), FF (35.73%)
10/19-11/16: IE (59.2%), FF (25.6%)
The Future of Photos
The iPod Moment: When a technology no one knew they wanted becomes indispensable.
Before the iPod came along, no one was sitting around saying, "You know, it would sure be nice to have a portable library of all the music I could ever hope to listen to." A year after it first came out, I was still asking what the big deal was. After all, portable CD players that could play MP3s had been around for a while without totally taking off, and they could carry a decent amount of music. Who needs to have every song they own in their pocket?
Then I was given an iPod, and suddenly that need was mine. Yes, Master Jobs, I understand now. It was a fundamental shift in music delivery. I will never question you again. Lead me.
Yesterday, I got into a long conversation with my boss about iPod moments for other technologies, especially photos. And it reminded me that I had to blog about Memory Miner.... Read more ....
For a Year I Owned RobotLion.com
If you, like me, find delight in potential new domain names, then check out AjaxWhois.com. Sooo much faster than the fugly looker-uppers at GoDaddy, etc.
Bah. Don't believe Joe Strupp. The South Dakota Argus Leader's "brave" resurrection of the wikitorial isn't a wiki at all. It's a plain old blog that allows moderated comments.
March 8, 2006
Minus Kelvin Live
Robin says,CC Salon. Props to Minus Kelvin for bringing the jams. (At one point -- this is no joke -- Larry Lessig walked up to him and said: "You're my hero!")
Somehow, the Assimilated Negro has come up with a worthy follow-up to the Blink Don't Wink™ campaign: the Netflix Neighborhood Challenge. His theory is that different neighborhoods get completely different tiers of Netflix service. If you've had Netflix delivered from different addresses, you've experienced the disparity in service; some places it's lightning-quick, others it's just speedy. Quoth the Negro:
So now I'm thinking there's probably some "neighborhood priority system" going on behind the scenes at the 'flix. And I'm planning to break the case. I'm going to be bringing my netflix returns around with me to the various neighborhoods I visit in Manhattan and Brooklyn. And we'll see who gets the shaft, and who gets [insert smart funny line that plays off the 'who gets the shaft' setup here].
Do we have any other case studies on this matter? Have you noticed any difference in Netflix return speed based on your neighborhood, or um, level of education/body odor?
I think we should blow this up nationwide, and give it a Google Maps mashup.
March 7, 2006
Best Movie Critics
From Ask MeFi, which movie critics do you trust?
My answer: I use the incomparable MetaCritic to figure out which films to see. Aggregated critical opinion really is a wondrous thing. (And MetaCritic, as one astute AMeFi commenter puts it, "is what Rotten Tomatoes wants to be when it grows up.")
So critics have a different function for me. My favorite critics give me smart, unexpected analyses that make the moviegoing experience richer. Often I read their reviews only after I've seen a film, to see what they saw in it that I didn't. For this purpose, my favorites are the NYT's Manohla Dargis, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek (especially for commercial movies), and James Berardinelli. And my second-tier critics are The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, Slate's David Edelstein, and Ebert.
Quick, while you can still pull up all of Flickr's most interesting photos for a given day on one page, check out FlickrLeech.
March 6, 2006
I'm not going to link to a single thing from Infosthetics.com, 'cause the whole site is so darn best. (If you're into information visualization. Whoo!) But the site is filled with interesting visual experiments, most of which I haven't seen anywhere else, and I'm surprised I haven't run across it before.
It's one of many wonderful links in a particularly stellar Things Magazine entry, up to and including:
And I'm not sure I understand this anecdote, but I certainly intend to repeat it:
When James Ivory entrusted Anthony Hopkins with the construction of that fantastic character, the servant in The Remains of the Day, Hopkins at a point had a problem of a conceptual nature and asked for help. Ivory advised him to talk to an old Windsor butler, an expert on the subject. Hopkins invited him to tea. They sat down and chatted for a while, but in fact, when the meeting came to an end, Hopkins had a feeling that this old servant had not told him anything. He walked him to the door and as he was about to leave, determined to extract something from the character, he blurted out, "Tell me, finally, what is a servant?" The old man turned, thought about it for a second and said, "A servant is someone who, when he walks into a room, makes it look emptier than it was before."
I'm not even going to link to it, because 1) you've already seen it, and 2) you know where to find it,1 but the Natalie Portman video really is a masterpiece. Even as a ripoff of an Easy E song, it's pretty breathtaking. I can even live with the random Viking segment.
1 If 1 or 2 is not true ... my child, I give you the Internet. Try not to break it.
2 Brokeback was robbed.
March 4, 2006
Life Imitates Art
March 3, 2006
Now that everyone else in Minnesota is hyping it, I guess I gotta give up the goods for the Snarkerati. Chasing Windmills is a cinematic daily black-and-white vlog exploring revealing and troubling moments in the life of a fictional couple. All episodes are written, shot and edited by the two main characters, who are a couple in real life. It is fantastic.
It's also kind of awkward when I occasionally spot the couple in my travels around Minneapolis, given the nature of the material. I kind of want to go up to them and say, "Hey! I love your vlog!" But I feel even more voyeuristic than when I meet other folks I've known through their blogs.
March 2, 2006
It Has Well-Greased Wheels
Correction: I am actually going to call my new band Hedonic Treadmill.
Le Média Citoyen
AgoraVox is a French citizen journalism site. It at least has the appearance of being somewhat hoppin'. There's also a newer English version. Related: I'm still not as jazzed about Newsvine as I feel like I ought to be.
Note the "post this on your site" button -- it gives you the embed code right inside the player! It's the first time I've seen that feature. Rod Naber (who sits in front of me) made this thing -- he is some sort of mad genius.
At the Game Developer's Conference, Will Wright gives a 35-minute demo of Spore. In the game, you evolve a little creature over the eons, from bacteria to Battlestar Galactica -- that, we knew. But check this out: The rest of the world (and ultimately the universe) is filled out entirely by other creatures created by other players at other times. The game plucks them from the shared Spore-verse to build a balanced ecosystem.
If you watch the video to the end you'll get to hear Will Wright say the phrase "fractally surf."
March 1, 2006
Who said maps have to be on Google to be cool? Clearly not Bill Rankin. The interface is the jank, but the pretty maps are worth it. Manhattan mapped according to building heights. America's international economic footprint. The many shapes of South America.