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March 30, 2007

Incremental Awesomeness

Robin says,

So there's this game called Desktop Tower Defense (yeah, thanks for nothing). It is one of those super-addictive web games that comes out periodically (see also).

Usually they get made and sort of sit there. Well, the guy behind Desktop Tower Defense... is upgrading it!

This is brilliant. If Desktop Tower Defense gets new enemies and units every two weeks or so I am pretty much never going to stop playing.

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:41 PM

March 28, 2007

Radical Radical Transparency Transparency

Robin says,

I totally do not have time to process this right now, but I'm pretty sure it is awesome:

  1. Wired does an issues on radical transparency. One part is a piece by Fred Vogelstein on Microsoft's blogging efforts.
  2. Microsoft's PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, writes up a giant briefing document for MSFT execs on how to deal effectively with Vogelstein.
  3. The firm accidentally emails this document to Vogelstein. Ta-da!
  4. Wired editor Chris Anderson blogs about it.
  5. Fred Vogelstein blogs about it.
  6. Wait for it...
  7. The president of Waggener Edstrom blogs about it!

The whole thing has transformed into a kind of crazy transparency-off. Yes, I have made up my mind: This is awesome.

P.S. Also in this issue of Wired: Clive Thompson quotes me! (I commented on his blog while he was working on this piece.)

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:18 AM

March 27, 2007

Cape Town Living

Robin says,


More photos! PingMag writes up The Beautiful Struggle, a big ol' book of photos taken in Cape Town, South Africa. Even if you don't read the interview with the book's creator, scroll down the page and read the photo captions. Really cool stuff.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:23 PM

Shanghai Living

Robin says,


There are only a few photos on this page, but they are really phenomenal: apartments in Shanghai.

Living spaces -- real ones, not the Dwell-worthy -- are so interesting. Anybody know of any projects to document and share them?


Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:37 AM

March 26, 2007

Hal Varian

Robin says,

The Berkeley information economist Hal Varian regularly writes cool analysis pieces for the NYT. As part of my quest to transform everything into the universe into a feed: Here they are.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:28 PM

MMORPG Sociology

Robin says,

Weird finding: MMORPG players are more likely to be first-born than middle, youngest, or only children.

Also: They are areligious and left-leaning. But,

Players who preferred to be play Paladins in WoW tended to be more conservative and religion tended to play a bigger role in their lives.

I love this stuff.

All from the Nick Yee's incomparably cool Daedalus Project.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:52 AM

March 23, 2007

Fatal Flaw

Robin says,

Whoah. I just realized something. That News Corp.-NBC-big media YouTube competitor is totally going to use Windows Media, isn't it? It totally is. Consider this my official prediction.

Comments (7) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:16 AM

March 19, 2007


Robin says,

Though a bit old, this is one of the best things I've read on the internet in a while:

Yesterday I took a Tokyu line train from Okayama to Meguro. I was standing in the first carriage, right behind the driver. I noticed a series of odd cries, muffled by glass, and realized they were coming from the white-gloved driver himself. Alone in his cabin, he was accompanying his actions with sharp cries. It was astonishing, yet, weirdly, I was the only passenger paying any attention. My first thought was that the driver was mentally ill. [...] I watched -- and filmed -- the lunatic. He did seem exceptionally focussed. At each station he made an immaculate white-gloved gesture -- a series of florid manual curlicues more like the gestures of an orchestral conductor than a train driver. He pointed at the TV screens in his console showing the doors, then pulled the train away with both gloved hands on his accelerator lever, uttering as if by compulsion his ecstatic falling cry: 'Kkkkyyyyyoooooooo!' Crossing points or passing other trains, he made similar noises. They seemed less like words than explosions of passion for the regular events of the job. And yet it was a passion as formalized as the whoops and howls of kabuki actors.

What's going on? Why, it's superlegitimacy.

(Warning: It might also be naive orientalism.)

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:46 PM

March 18, 2007

A Rare Rant

Robin says,

Did anybody else see "300"?

I thought it was basically war porn.

Via Rex I just saw this NYT op-ed by Neal Stephenson defending the movie somewhat:

The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who arenít used to it.

That sounds weird to me. As I said over in the Fimoculous comments, I'm not sure I buy the conflation of geek culture with... er... whatever "300" is. Just 'cause it's from a comic book, it counts more as an avatar of nerd-dom than as, say, a hyperviolent fantasia of nationalism?

And I don't buy the "what, you don't want to celebrate the Battle of Thermopylae and the salvation of the west??" argument at all because "300" is pretty clearly not intended to be a historical document. Stephenson can't claim it as both a sci-fi hyperreal anime kung-fu nerd-fest and as a documentary.

But really, I think I'm just a little bummed because Neal Stephenson wrote something and it didn't make any sense. First the climate crisis, now this...

Comments (15) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:43 PM

A PSA for Current

Matt says,

I'm catching up on weeks of RSS feeds. (Actually, I'm about to go to bed, and I've barely made a dent. Sigh.) Everybody's going nuts over these Ira Glass videos on storytelling. Robin probably won't point it out, so I will:

a) these have been around for a while. I want him to do another set of them now that he's conquered another medium. Hey, co-blogger, could ya work on that?

b) Current's actually got a ton more of these, not only with Ira Glass, but with Sarah Vowell, Dave Eggers, Elvis Mitchell, Robert Redford, Orville Schell, Xeni Jardin, Bonz Malone, Catherine Hardwicke and Jonathan Caouette. Go marinate in narrative goodness.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:35 PM

Thiago, What Are You Working on Down There?

Robin says,

Michigan teen makes small fusion reactor in his basement. No seriously, it's real. I'm pretty sure the greatest technical achievement of my tenure as a Michigan teen was, like, connecting to BBSes.

As long as we're talking about science: Remember the world accent quiz? Well, the results are in. The U.S. accents -- Alabama and Wis-CAHHHN-sin -- were a cinch, while the accents from Bolivia, Italy, and Morocco stumped almost everyone.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:24 AM

March 16, 2007

Helvetica Haiku

Robin says,

Wherever there is a haiku contest, I must enter it. (And don't forget, I'm a haiku champion.)

This time the theme is fonts, specifically Helvetica.

My entry:

Snow falls on posters
A lonely face, sad, whispers:
'I'm neo-grotesque.'
Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:07 AM

March 15, 2007

The Artist's Eye

Robin says,


From Cognitive Daily:

These two pictures represent the eye motions of two viewers as they scan a work of art with the goal of remembering it later. One of them is a trained artist, and the other is a trained psychologist. Can you tell which is which?


Comments (12) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:57 AM

March 14, 2007

Foreign Policy: Still Awesome

Robin says,

Foreign Policy magazine just got nominated for two National Magazine Awards. One was for general excellence, which is right on. It's just consistently a great magazine.

And in case you missed it, they now have an eminently RSS-subscription-worthy blog.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:30 PM

March 13, 2007

Ben Maulis's thoughts: Stephen makes some pretty far-out comments in his interview with NBC and elsewhere. He says he be... >>

The Man on Stage

Note: Welcome, random deluge of visitors coming to read this post. You should subscribe to the Snarkmarket feed. It's good!

Just saw Stephen Hawking over at Berkeley. It was one of the most amazing talks I've ever seen -- for reasons that had nothing to do with the talk itself.

I mean, it was good stuff: "The Origin of the Universe." But my mind has been blown that way a few times already and Hawking didn't say anything I hadn't already heard.

But it wasn't what he said. It was the scene.

Imagine the stage: huge, wide, dark -- Zellerbach Hall at Berkeley. There's Hawking in the middle: a crumple of brown suit in his wheelchair, in a pool of light. There's a humongous projection screen behind him and a microphone stand set up in front of him.

In the beginning there's a long pause. Really long. The applause dies down (as an aside, I've never seen an audience as warm towards somebody as this one was towards him) and then... crickets. For thirty seconds... a minute... two minutes.

Then suddenly, Hawking's synthesized voice:

"Can you hear me?"

The climactic scenes of blockbuster movies are not as thrilling. There is a gasp, and laughs, and claps, and murmurs "yes."

His voice still sounds pretty much like that original Macintosh synthesizer -- you'd recognize it as, like, "generic computer voice" -- except here in Zellerbach it's loud, amplified, everywhere at once.

He barrels into his talk, accompanied by a line of white text along the bottom of the projection screen and a set of awesomely dorky slides. Yes: To describe the very shape and duration of the universe, Stephen Hawking uses PowerPoint clip art.

But of course the entire time, he's motionless. For all we know Hawking could be a dummy, a cunningly detailed prop. The text has all been composed ahead of time, obviously. The screen is the only thing on stage that moves.

Well, almost. Hawking controls his world via a sensor that watches his eye -- I think he blinks, or at least flexes the blink-muscle, to trigger it. And when it triggers, it makes a whispery beep. So throughout his talk, you can hear a background rhythm of these beeps: faint, just on the edge of perception even with the microphone so close, but distinctly there. Like a pulse.

I wish I could really capture how his synthesized voice felt. Booming out in that hall, in odd computery cadences, the tonal modulations almost musical sometimes, and a crisp digital sibilance... the guy I went with said "it sounded kinda like the voice of god" and he was totally right.

Posted March 13, 2007 at 11:28 | Comments (16) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

Don't Think of a Viral Video

Robin says,

They can quantitatively predict media virality now. Crap. It involves hooking sensors up to your brain. Crap crap crap.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:18 PM

March 12, 2007

A Short Chain of Lives

Robin says,

It was a beautiful summer* night here in San Francisco, so what better to do now than ponder the shape of history?

Here is a hint: It is something like a dime sitting on top of the Empire State Building.

And here is a treat: There is a commenter on Daily Kos who was born in 1929! Oh, how I pledge to prowl the holo-grid when I'm 78...

*I know, weird, right?

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:05 PM

Make the Web Fun

Robin says, is doing a nice job with things these days. For instance: Here's where I spent most of this sunny San Francisco day!

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:58 AM

March 10, 2007

Epistolary Espionage

Matt says,

The National Security Letter has always been a laughably frightening proposition, even for us post-privacy types. This is the one that FBI officials could issue legally requiring any organization to secretly hand over records on individuals. There may be an FBI file containing your work e-mails, bank records, and telephone contacts, and you will never know. Very Lives of Others.

Of course it would be revealed that the FBI's insidious use of the NSL has gone far beyond the boundaries permitted even by the licentious Patriot Act. To hear it described in the news reports, FBI agents are using NSLs like we use Google. One imagines a New Yorker cartoon depicting two agents chatting over coffee: "This guy asked me out on Yahoo. I NSL-ed him, he seems clean."

The WaPo's story has a chatty, charming tone to it: "The FBI collected intimate information about the lives of a population roughly the size of Bethesda's." "A report released yesterday by the department's Office of the Inspector General offers the first official glimpse into the use of that impressive tool, and the results, according to the report, are not pretty." It's maybe a Reagan-era East Berlin cocktail party vibe. Check it out.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:03 AM

March 9, 2007

World Accent Quiz

Robin says,

Cognitive Daily does a fun experiment every Friday -- this week's asks you to identify world accents. Takes five minutes. They'll report the results next Friday.

I think more blogs should run informal experiments on a regular basis... it might even begin to resemble massively multi-citizen science.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:27 PM

Ze Frank's Greatest Hits

Robin says,

If I really did run the Museum of Media History, I would put this video in it. File under "early 21st century internet culture." Also, "early life of President Hosea Frank."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:46 AM

March 8, 2007

Open Architecture Network

Robin says,

Ooh! The Open Architecture Network is live. Go sign up. Via email Architecture for Humanity says:

If we hit 2000 users then we will have an amazing announcement tomorrow.

Who doesn't love amazing announcements?

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:51 PM

Giant Transforming Architecture

Robin says,


Zaha Hadid's design for a performing arts center in Abu Dhabi looks like it could transform into a Neon Genesis Evangelion-style giant robot. Or travel in outer space.

Either one is fine by me.

(Via Archinect.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:21 AM

God, I'm So Glad I Live in the Year 2007

Robin says,

Robert Reich's first videoblog. It's actually interesting: He talks about the experience of being a guest on big-time TV vs. being a videoblogga.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:00 AM

Natural Social Networks

Robin says,

This seems smart: social networking sites run by airlines. Of course, the target isn't people like me, who always just grab the cheapest fare on Orbitz; it's business travelers, e.g. the Southwest devotees who fly from San Francisco to LA twice a week. I mean, I feel like these folks have a thin, oh-it's-you-again social network built already.

What other businesses regularly convene groups of people in the same space who might have something in common?

Here's my nomination: grocery stores! What if Whole Foods set up a social networking site? I actually think it could become like the best dating site in the world pretty quickly. Either that or the most awkward. Maybe both.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:42 AM

March 4, 2007

A New Axis to Grind

Robin says,

Prospect did a very Edge-y thing and asked a hundred smart people what the big important axis of the 21st century is going to be -- think left/right except, you know, futuristic. I liked this one from Mark Cousins:

By the end of the 21st century, politicians and the idea of the executive will have disappeared entirely. As everyone will be connected to some evolved form of the internet, all political decisions will be made by daily and weekly referendums. Right and left will still be underlying polarities, but will disperse into the hundreds of decisions a citizen will make annually. There will be no political class to pillory. Instead, the new dilemma will be how to delineate a constituency. By nation? Supranational region? Continent?

Note that I do not actually think this is true. But, I like it.

I have to say, as with the Edge question-fests, I really appreciate the people who engage honestly with the question, instead of using it to simply describe how they think the world ought to be.

So my favorite answer might be Michael Ignatieff's:

Everything that happens to us will be unexpected. There is no reason to be discouraged about this. Practical political life is the art of managing the unexpected, just as life itself is a matter of rising to the occasion.

(Via 3qd. Check out the second reply they highlight. Eep!)

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:57 PM

March 3, 2007

'Livable Utopian Subsets of the World'

Robin says,

Short interview with Jonathan Lethem in the Boston Globe's great Ideas section this week:

IDEAS: You allude to autism often in your work. In the new novel, you just about declare Carl to be a high-functioning autistic. Why so much interest in autism and Asperger's syndrome?

LETHEM: It's evocative for me. I'm enticed by it.

IDEAS: Not that I'm diagnosing you.

LETHEM: But don't be afraid of diagnosing me. I see Asperger's as a defining property in a lot of areas where it is denied by the participants. So I don't want to be denying it in myself.

And when I think about Asperger's syndrome I think about communities and subcultures, for example, the science fiction subculture, and science fiction conventions. What kind of people go there, to feel they have a people? When I go, it feels to me that they are bound by a thinly coded, super high-functioning Asperger's affiliation. And there's the Internet, which is a kind of autistic Greenwich Village, a place where people wander around trying to figure out whether they fit.

There are subcultures in a lot of my work. I see them as places where people try to make livable utopian subsets of the world.

That is awesome.

Recommended: Lethem's early (and not-that-well-known) book "Gun, With Occasional Music" is weird and terrific.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:17 PM

A Voice from Bangladesh

Robin says,

Solid op-ed in the NYT about Bangladesh's dire susceptibility to global warming. The piece also serves as a heads-up on Tahmima Anam, its author, who has a novel set in Bangladesh coming out soon. Cool!

More: David Ignatius writes up a big report from GBN here in San Francisco. Succinctly:

But in Bangladesh, where millions of people live at or near sea level, even a small increase could produce a catastrophe. In a severe monsoon, 60 million to 100 million people could be forced to flee inundated areas, Schwartz warns, producing "the single greatest humanitarian crisis we have ever seen."

Lots more in that GBN report, too -- worth a look.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:16 PM

links for 2007-03-03

Posted March 3, 2007 at 3:19 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Five Words
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