May 31, 2007
No, Not That Vista
Okay, see if you can guess what this refers to:
VistA stands as perhaps the greatest success story for government-developed information technology since the Internet itself.
Wow, right? The answer lies in Thomas Goetz's NYT op-ed.
(His blog Epidemix is subscription-worthy as well!)
May 30, 2007
Real Writers Use Courier 12
Slate asks a bunch of writers to describe the fonts they use to compose new drafts. An astonishing number love Courier! Ack!
Here's one of my favorite rationales, though:
I like Courier because it seems provisional -- I can still change my mind -- whereas Times New Roman and its analogues look like book faces, meaning that they feel nailed down and immovable. I also like the fact that in Courier each letter is accorded the exact same amount of space, which I think is only fair to the i and the l.
I have no special font preference but I do tend to draft things in 14-point instead of 12-. That way I can lean back a bit further... judge a bit deeper... also, it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing more.
How about you, Snarkmatrix?
May 27, 2007
How'd It Get to be a Pentagon, Anyway?
In the Washington Post, Steve Vogel tells the tale of the Pentagon's shape. Not to ruin it or anything, but this is funny: It was designed that way to fit on an oddly-shaped plot of land. Then it got moved. But there wasn't time to change the plans. So they kept it a pentagon!
Via Danger Room.
May 26, 2007
The Genius of Granularity
Our pal Chip has a great new column up over at Poynter.org. It's about the incredible reliability and productivity of "brief, daily sessions" vs. big, high-pressure, long-term goals. (Of course the two aren't mutually exclusive: long-term goals are just brief, daily sessions in disguise, per David Allen. But you've got to treat them like BDSes or you are screwed.)
Gray Lady Gaming
All right. All right. I think I might finally have to break down and get TimesSelect. The NYT is running Flash games as editorials.
(Actually, I think it's a huge mistake to put these games -- especially the first few! -- behind the pay wall. They are viral material. So maybe capitulation would send the wrong signal?)
May 25, 2007
Jason Kottke with an epic blog-summation: better living through self deception. It's all about the secret power of, er, just thinking. Keyed to an NYT article along similar lines. Credit to Point of Note for being my first source on that one.
links for 2007-05-25
May 24, 2007
Like a Giant Flower
This is beautiful: a new solar power plant in Seville. It doesn't use photovoltaics, though; instead there's a field of mirrors focusing sunlight on pipes of water. Steam = power. Simple!
No time to clip a picture, but go check it out. It's angelic.
May 23, 2007
Joining the Parade
Paprika, a new movie from Japanese director Satoshi Kon, comes out in artsy U.S. theaters this week. I saw it at the San Francisco International Film Festival and it blew my mind. No hyperbole; I was slack-jawed. Am definitely going to go see it again.
May 22, 2007
Just Imagine What the Suburbs Would Look Like
You know how sometimes the avante-garde gets commodified, and styles and forms once special are suddenly just everywhere?
Driving at Night
See, if campaigns ran on that, not on this, I'd be much happier.
May 21, 2007
The Layabout's Tale
All those people just hanging out in the middle of the day... who are they? It is the indispensable job of the reportorial class to actually find answers to questions the rest of us pose idly. Chris Colin does just that over in the Chronicle.
Unrepresentative, but awesome, quote:
"John," who is 18 and was strolling through Yerba Buena Gardens one Thursday morning, laid out his typical itinerary: "Watch the grass grow, get high, hit on the ladies."
How does he pay rent? "If you ask 100 girls for $10, that's $1,000, that's rent," he explained logically.
Via the Globe's Ideas section.
Maybe the Horse Isn't So Dead After All
Repeated exposure to one person's viewpoint can have almost as much influence as exposure to shared opinions from multiple people. This finding shows that hearing an opinion multiple times increases the recipient's sense of familiarity and in some cases gives a listener a false sense that an opinion is more widespread then it actually is.
Sounds totally plausible to me. There's this line later on: "The repetition effect observed in this research can help us to understand how our own impressions are influenced by what we perceive to be the reality of others."
I think about this phenomenon a lot in one particular context: It's amazing how fame and notoriety are so (and so increasingly?) local and subjective. Like, I think William Langewiesche is totally famous; you probably do not. I think The Shins are totally famous; if you are the blog-reading type you might agree, but it is not that widely-held a belief.
I understand that the realization that things are awfully subjective is not, like, a new thing, but come on! This is supposed to be fame! The whole point is to actually be famous!
Ethnography of Lolcats
Slate slideshow on lolcats.
I admit it: I think they are hilarious.
Was just booking a flight on southwest.com and saw this:
It's not the site; it's the real costs Firefox add-on, which I installed a few weeks ago and promptly forgot about. Apparently this is one of its least-impressive displays; there are other examples here.
So this is really cool, right? On the web, you don't have to wait for labeling regimes to change... you can just rig up your own view of commerce.
That said, I will concede that the CO2 values shown here did not affect my purchase decision in the slightest. It was only after I bought the ticket that was moved to calculate how much CO2 my Toyota would spew out if I drove it to LA instead: a little over 300 pounds.
May 20, 2007
A Delicate Poke to the Body Politic
From blueprint drafts to opening night, the Wire Opera House took about two months to complete. Lerner refers to such projects as "urban acupuncture" that energizes the development process.
Urban acupuncture! As a turn of phrase alone it's genius, but the underlying idea is pretty great as well.
And, a bit dumbly, I can't help but think of something almost literally like an acupuncture needle: a thin spike of mirrored steel, maybe about twenty stories tall, built on on a movable platform that you could wheel around to different points in a city. One week it'd be in the richest neighborhood, then in the poorest, then at the geographical center of the city, then at the spot where the city was founded, etc.
Historian Niall Ferguson loves simulation games. The piece (by Clive Thompson, natch) is so tightly-written that it resists blockquoting... so just go read it.
Okay, one blockquote. This is a pretty rad statement coming from a Harvard historian:
"Serious games are the next big platform," he says.
I've been reading "The End of History and the Last Man" to get ready for Francis Fukuyama's fast-approaching Long Now talk and now I'm wondering what the End of History game would look like...
I think it might involve holding down for two seconds, then pressing up and the A button to make Hegel do a lightning kick.
"You look at the people you have to motivate, and what motivates them, and sometimes it's a negative message," said Blaise Hazelwood, another veteran of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign who served as political director for the Republican National Committee. She set up her business, Grassroots Targeting, in 2005, offering research to campaigns. She has begun branching out to corporate clients, including a major airline.
-- sums up more and more of our political process, especially on the (unsexy but crucial) state level. Campaigns are just database queries now.
I know, I know, it's just advertising -- smart, sophisticated, data-driven advertising -- but there's something so mechanistic about it. I think I prefer heavy-handed TV ads to this kind of stuff.
Coming Soon: A Bunker With a View
That's Releasing the Chi
I think this just became the definitive case for remixable culture.
Via M. Migurski.
May 18, 2007
He's Michael Bay
Against my better judgment, I am really looking forward to the Transformers movie this summer. My colleague Joe is trying to set expectations at the right level, though.
May 17, 2007
Brain-Hurt of the Day
From Elizabeth Kolbert's lovely article about CERN's giant Hadron Collider:
It is one of the paradoxes of particle physics that fundamental particles, though pointlike and indivisible, are also generally unstable. In fact, the heavier particles are so short-lived that even to speak of their having an existence seems faintly ludicrous; a top quark, for example, is estimated to last no more than 1 × 10¯²⁴ seconds. (For comparison’s sake, 1 × 10¯²⁴ centuries comes to three millionths of a billionth of a second.)Och, there goes my head, hurting again.
May 16, 2007
A Matrix of Cost/Benefit Analyses, i.e., a Parking Lot
Short, weird, awesome post on parking lots from Jan Chipchase. Love his jotted-journal-notes-to-self style.
Advancing the argument that good design is bound neither to time nor to technology: Industrial designers choose some favorite products and the best of them are all old-ish.
Then again, maybe it mostly just advances the argument that good photography is everything... I mean, look at that Walkman! Hot!
May 7, 2007
I've got a huge backlog of film-blogging to do, as I have seen some unspeakably cool stuff at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Here's a stop-gap -- a short from last night's "Frame by Frame" animation shorts collection:
Higher quality versions here. And of course, as you can probably imagine, seeing it in the theater was CRAZYNUTS.
Designing for the Other 90 Percent
Nice roundup over on Core77 of a Cooper-Hewitt show focused on design for the other (read: poorer) 90 percent. Very cool, though I wish somebody would throw a design show full of stuff invented by the other 90 percent. It's out there.
Roundup written by Natalia Allen, a "design futurist"! Rad!
May 5, 2007
A Glimpse of the Retro-Future
(Note: This blog post is essentially Jarah's blog post, with an additional layer of attribution. I love how recursive blogging can be. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a blog post retain the entire meme trail of an item before. How awesome would it be to see "Wired via Jarah via Matt via" at the end of a post? Can you guys think of anything like that?)
May 3, 2007
May 2, 2007
... the cast of characters in what is arguably the worst administration since Nixon's strikes me as devoid of literary interest.
...is totally wrong. This cast of characters -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, the Bushes -- is full of literary interest! Reading Barry Werth's 31 Days, it struck me how long and strange their story has been. And the cauldron of spite, idealism, conniving, and hubris that is Iraq: It's tragedy in the deepest sense.
But this is not a confessional crowd, and that's unlikely to change even after they're out of office, so it is precisely the job of the modern novelist (as opposed to the journalist, or even the historian) to give us some insight into their psyches.
A good, honest, complicated psychological novel about George W. Bush? I would read that in a second.