November 30, 2007
China's New Markets
Interesting notes over at Tim Johnson's McClatchy blog on why China is just going to keep growing and growing and growing. He quotes a former Morgan Stanley economist:
Everybody in the world has too much money except the United States. Think about it. Even Russia has a $500 billion in foreign reserves. Even India has over, like, $200 billion in foreign reserves. India never had that kind of money before. This has very important implications for what happens next year. Emerging economies do not need to cut back. They can expand. [...]
Even Africa has a lot of money. So emerging market trade in China is already half of China's trade growth. As American consumers need to rest, need to pass, suddenly emerging market trade is happening. And emerging market trade is right up China's alley because emerging markets export commodities, exactly what China needs -- oil, copper, iron ore -- exactly what China needs. And China exports cheaper consumer products and on top of that cheap capital goods, like pumps, like trucks...
This is truly the dawn of emerging market trade development.
November 29, 2007
Admittedly, I was primed for this new Dolly Parton song and video by a recent Economist piece (!?) about the deep American-ness of Dollywood, her theme park in the Smoky Mountains. But, whatever: It's great. You can definitely hear the pop-industrial complex at work in that multi-tracked chorus... but it's still sort of Dolly-simple and Dolly-good.
November 28, 2007
'When Someone Beeps You, You Know the Reason'
The new issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication has a terrific paper on the rules of 'beeping'. That's when somebody calls your mobile phone, lets it rings once, and hangs up. It's a totally established mode of communication in places where airtime is still precious, most notably Africa.
It's a ping in the purest sense: Exactly one bit of information is conveyed. Ah, but what a bit! The article defines a taxonomy of beeps -- the callback beep ("call me back, because I'm out of airtime"), the relational beep ("I'm thinking of you"), and (get ready) the pre-negotiated instrumental beep ("yo, come pick me up now, as we agreed").
But really, it's all about the anecdotes. Because there are all sorts of interesting social dynamics involved. For instance:
Lillian's lunchtime customers at her restaurant beep her daily, demanding a callback. She explains, "Customers beep to check on whether there is food left. Some are customers who are going to bring me money. So, when I see a number that I know, I have to call back, so I use a unit or two. They are some whom I don't call back because they have nothing constructive [profitable] to tell me." Like Patrick, Lillian says she never beeps customers.
And of course:
If you are chasing after a lady, you cannot beep. You have to call. Beeping is for friends. When a girl you do not know well beeps you, you have to call back if you are interested. You cannot even text. She has to see that the effort is being made. Borrow a friends' phone if you do not have airtime.
What I love most about this is how contextual the information is. The beep means nothing -- nothing! -- without all the social understanding surrounding it. For instance:
As Immanuel explains, a beep can mean the exact opposite of the one before it. In his case, some of his dairy farmers beep to say, "there is no milk," others to say, "there is milk." The only difference in what Immanuel sees is the number on the missed call log; he uses his knowledge of the relational context and the meaning of past beeps to determine which beeps "mean" what.
This paper reads half like an academic study and half like an awesome, weird Wired or New Yorker article. Check it out. It's a big world out there.
Skyscrapers Aren't Square Anymore
Ah, nothing like a Wired article about crazy mega-engineering. This one's about Bill Baker, an engineer at Skidmore Owings and Merrill. He worked on the engineering for the Burj Dubai, which will be the tallest building in the world by a wide margin.
What surprised me is the shape Baker came up with the solve the "2000-foot problem." This thing is a giant tripod.
(Via Andrew Blum's blog, 'cause he wrote it.)
Okay, so: I just spent ten minutes clicking around SOM's site. Unbelievable.
Blades of Glass
Pictures and review of a terrific new building in Chicago. Observations:
- This is what the future looks like.
- One of the reason the future looks so good is that it gets to stand next to all the old buildings.
November 27, 2007
Interesting interview up at Gamasutra with one of the developers of the 3D Mario games, from Mario 64 to Mario Galaxy. They get into some pretty great detail:
One example [of a persistent problem with 3D] is the difficulty of stomping Goomba enemies in 3D, a basic, typical activity in a Mario game. "On the TV screen, objects don't have the same kind of physicality," [Koizumi] said. "That's what makes it difficult to make people grasp the physicality and depth."
One solution is adding shadow. "We decided to drop a shadow on the ground everywhere in Mario 64," said Koizumi. "That way, every floating object would have a reference point on the ground." Shadows are so effective at conveying depth, said Koizumi, that adding them has become an "iron-clad necessity," having shadows fall directly under the character regardless of the light source. "It might not be realistic, but it's much easier to play with the shadow directly below," he added.
(Emphasis mine.) Or, how about this: Why is Mario Galaxy set on spherical planetoid levels?
Neither will the player get lost easily, or need to adjust the camera -- by using spheres, Koizumi said, they had created a game field that never ended.
This became the overall theme of development – "we should tune the game so people can play without ever having to think about the camera," Koizumi said.
It's so the camera -- a thorny problem in 3D games, even today -- never has to change direction! Sneaky!
There's lots more on realism vs. gameplay in there. Worth a read.
November 26, 2007
One Voice, Many Layers
The "Ma Fama" version of "Dancing With Friends" made me think of Fredo Viola's sad song.
Come, Join My Secret Underground Cultural Restoration Society
Four members of an underground "cultural guerrilla" movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France's cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.
"The Untergunther"! I could not possibly love this more.
November 21, 2007
Snarkmarket Holiday Book Recommendation
Briefly: Yes, I agree: Read David Markson's "The Last Novel." It's slim; it's inventive in form but timeless in spirit; and it will shake you up.
What's your recommendation? Stipulation: You only get one! (But you can tell us the runners-up if you want.)
'I Need Me Some Battlestar'
November 20, 2007
Spurred on by this bit from Kanye West:
On a more sober and reflective afternoon a few days later, sitting in his sparse, modernist New York apartment, West sees little reason to soften or withdraw this claim. That's the thing about being drunk, he says. You say what you really believe to be true. "People got to look at the concerts, look at the sales, look at the impact, look at the songs, look at the connection with pop culture," he continues. "I mean, it's obvious. It's almost I don't even need to state it. It's so true it's obvious. It's not even arguable."
Thesis: We are living in the Age of Audacity. Who are the icons of the era? Steve Jobs. George W. Bush. Kanye West. Google. Hedge funds. Craig Venter. China. All pursuing unapologetically over-the-top ambitions -- and sort of, er, succeeding. (I realize the Bush claim is an odd one, and I don't have time to go into it, but you understand I'm not saying the Bush administration is a success by any measure; I'm just saying they actually did accomplish many of their insane goals.)
Idea in motion. The obvious rejoinder is "yo dude, how 'bout all of human history is the age of audacity?" Think about it... I'll be back in the morning.
November 19, 2007
Notes on London
Jotted in the hotel notebook:
- The British Museum has neat stuff, but honestly, if it's a cloudy day, the main attraction is the atrium, which is the closest simulation I have yet found of the underworld. The sterile air... the ghastly, formless chalk-white light... the long, loitering lines... the babel of languages... it's spooky and depressing in a not-unenjoyable way.
- You could spend an entire day just soaking up street names in London. I guess it's all just set so deeply into our literature and culture; everything resonates in your ears and on your lips, even if you don't know why. Tottenham Court? Charing Cross? Hampstead Heath? Clearly there are wizards in all of those places.
- The London Underground is instantly navigable. The stations sort of hold your hand. (And they too have wizard names.)
- The Tate Modern used to be a power plant, and its cavernous main room -- the Turbine Hall! -- is devoted to commissioned installations. Apparently for artists it's quite a challenge because the space is just so big. The artist Doris Salcedo came up with a brilliant solution, on display when I was there: No sculpture. Instead, she carved a giant, seismic crack into the floor. Pictures don't really do it justice; in my mind, the real work of art isn't the crack at all (though it's beautiful) but rather the inescapable thought: "She actually broke open the floor? They let her do this? She wrecked the museum!" It feels totally transgressive -- and, therefore, awesome.
- Leading to and from the Tate Modern there's a pedestrian-only bridge across the Thames. It's pretty thrilling.
- Oh hey, and: I tried meta-free travel this time. That is, I took no camera, and took no pictures. Recommended!
Check Out the Death Map
It's sort of amazing how the blogosphere has completely inspected and chewed up the Kindle in like eight hours. Done and done.
Tim has a great round-up of links which is worth clicking through. I generally agree with the consensus ("Not shiny! So expensive. Why closed?") but I do think people ought to wait to touch one before completely writing it off. However bad the Kindle is, the Sony Reader was and is ten times as bad, and yet, when I actually held one, and flipped a page... I was intrigued. E-Ink displays are unlike anything else; it's almost unsettling to see what you know is digital information rendered absolutely matte, just like a piece of paper. I think it'd be a trip to see a web page on a display like that.
And that indicates where I part ways with Tim, who thinks Apple could make the device that beats Kindle and its kin. Here's my thing: I think the real revolution is going to be electronic paper -- or at least electronic cardboard. That is: a display that's kinda flexible, and matte, and cheap, and connected to the internet -- but without much style or content of its own. Maybe it's still five years away; but when it comes, I don't think Apple's going to make it. It's just not... shiny enough, you know?
Also: The thing that's really potentially interesting about all this stuff is that, per if:book, our very notion of the book could change: finding one gets faster, reading one gets more social, writing one gets... weird. This seems to be what got Stephen Levy excited in his Newsweek piece. But it also seems that, barring big changes, Kindle abdicates most of that, because it's a closed system. Boo.
November 17, 2007
Nerd Alert! Nerd Alert!
The episode of The Simpsons airing this Sunday features guest voices Art Spiegelman, Alan Moore (!), and Dan Clowes (!!) -- and apparently the most nerd-tastic set of inside jokes and dork-out references ever seen in popular media.
But -- as a journalist, I'm accountable to the public trust. I must inform my audience of significant events which will effect their lives. And that audience, is nerds. Nerds who need to know that density of superhero, graphic novel, manga... (SPOILER ALERT)... James Bond, Archie, Wolverine and even Hergé -- THAT'S RIGHT, HERG F-ING É -- jokes in The Simpsons episode "Husbands and Knives" airing Sunday November 18th at 8 PM on Fox will make their nerdy heads explode!
November 16, 2007
This Sounds Like Something William Gibson Would Make Up
Regarding Google's plans to bid in the upcoming wireless spectrum auction, PaidContent notes:
Since the auction will be intense, Google has hired game-theory specialists to help plot its auction strategy, the story says.
One of those game theorists is totally a character out of a William Gibson book.
Actually, wait, no. In the Gibson book it would never be Google -- it would be some shadowy Russian holding company. Never mind.
Change Like the Seasons
My favorite Sartorialist posts are always the ones where he catches someone he's snapped before after an interval of many months. It's fun to see... change!
November 15, 2007
He Traded His Vowels to the Devil for Fame and Power
Peter Rojas' new music label just launched: RCRD LBL. Simple concept: The music's free! It's all supported by advertising.
Feels a bit thin right now, but that's okay: The internet felt a bit thin in the beginning, too, and that didn't make it any less The Future.
Asia, Brick by Brick
Architects from China, Japan and Thailand amongst others were given kits of white LEGO building blocks and told to have just fun. The results, from Asiatic temples to futuristic towers to sustainable old-and-new city plans are currently touring Asia.
Don't have time to paste in an image, but do click over -- the creations are quite cool. I love the mix of playfulness and seriousness on display. Also, the choice of all-white bricks was key.
Patience and Fortitude, the API
The New York Public Library has a labs site and a blog! Too cool.
November 14, 2007
I Heart Ben Bernanke
The Fed is changing the way it communicates with the public pretty dramatically -- faster pace, more information, more transparency. This is an important precedent.
Maybe they should start a blog?
No, probably not.
November 13, 2007
Beware Delicious Middle Eastern Treats
Presented without comment: FBI Hoped to Follow Falafel Trail to Iranian Terrorists Here.
November 12, 2007
Riot Cops of the World
Wow. Scary images here. I feel like these bug-eyed, glass-faced dudes are pretty key characters of the early 21st century.
Never done this before on this blog: Any readers/pals in London? I'll be there Thursday through Sunday. Drop me a line (robin at snarkmarket) or leave a comment.
The Title is Half the Battle
Poem for a Monday morning: Visiting the Library in a Strange City.
November 11, 2007
Mailer and McLuhan
A good video to watch in memoriam: Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan on the CBC in 1968. What a match-up. Honestly I'd never seen Mailer on film or video before this moment, and he's wild.
The artist, when he encounters the present, the contemporary artist, is always seeking new patterns -- new pattern recognition -- which is his task, for heaven's sake! His great need... the absolute indispensability of the artist is that he alone, in the encounter with the present, can give the pattern recognition. [...]
Marshall speaks of [the artist] as a man who essentially records [...] I'd say the artist does that and then he goes one step further: He says whether this is good or bad. And it doesn't matter if the artist's finding is right or wrong, because what he does is give the people who come in contact with his art a subtler sense of good and bad -- then they have a better ability to determine for themselves whether something is good or bad. The reason I keep hitting this notion is that in all of McLuhan-land, you never find the words "good" or "bad."
(Via Russell Davies.)
November 10, 2007
That might actually be the best-executed Flash site I have ever seen -- no exaggeration.
FYI: I'm reading Witold Rybczynski's "City Life" on this chilly Saturday morning and it is lighting my brain on fire.
P.S. Yes, I am reading it today because I read that Steven Johnson interview last night.
P.P.S. WR's other books "Home" and "A Clearing in the Distance" also = cerebral conflagration.
November 9, 2007
Awesomeness = f(Small Blocks)
Significantly less fun than the previous post, but I've gotta admit, this bit from Steven Berlin Johnson in his kottke.org interview is sort of one of the best descriptions of what I like about the web, ever:
SBJ: One of the great things that Jane Jacobs wrote about in Life and Death of the Great American Cities is the design principle of favoring short blocks over longer ones -- the crooked streets of the Village versus the big avenues of Chelsea -- because short blocks diversify the flow of pedestrian traffic. In an avenue system, everyone feeds onto the big streets, and you have insanely overcrowded streets and then side streets that are deserted (which leads to storefront real estate that only the big chains can afford, and real estate that no one wants because there's not enough foot traffic). In a short block model, the streets tend to gravitate towards that middle zone where there are always some people on them, but not too many.
I've always thought that the blogosphere can be thought of as a kind of small blocks model for the Web, whereas the original portal idea was much more of a big avenues model. Yes, there are some increasing returns effects that lead to some A-list bloggers having millions of visitors, and yes, there is a long tail of bloggers who have almost no traffic. But the healthiest part of the curve is what Dave Sifry once called "the big butt" -- the middle zone between the head and tail of the Power Law distribution, all those sites with 1000 to 100,000 readers. That's the part of the blogosphere that I think is really cause for celebration, because something like that just didn't exist before on that scale. And as Yochai -- who of course is very smart about all this -- points out: those mid-list sites also communicate up the chain to the A-listers, who can broadcast out the interesting developments in the mid-list so that those stories enter a broader public dialogue.
Always worth remembering it didn't have to be this way. We could have ended up with a much more craptastic top-down internet, like a sort of Super-AOL-Prodigy, or something. We lucked out!
Problems = f(Money)
This might be the ultimate Friday night link: hip-hop charts and graphs.
This Business Model Won't Work for Everyone
Regarding Ron Paul's insanely savvy web fund-raising, Virginia Heffernan observes:
He's up to $7,306,451.20 total -- or make that $$7,533,699.69 total, as the ticker on his site flips up every second, like the national debt -- and, if nothing else, he has shown that somebody is making money with online video.
November 8, 2007
In a Strategic Sense, Good Beats Evil
Awesome post from Umair Haque:
That's the point: from a strategic pov, good beats evil - unfortunately for Facebook.
November 7, 2007
No Democracy for You
Hey, speaking of revolutions, democracy, etc.: Read this harrowing NYRB piece on the triumph of Putinism in Russia. It's all terrible, but this part seems particularly bad:
Putin's team quickly accomplished their most important task -- the capture of television -- and once it had been completed, the country was subjected to pervasive, incessant propaganda that was far more skillful, effective, and all-encompassing than anything the Soviets ever conceived. The mass media have relentlessly hammered home images of Putin as a charismatic ruler leading a national renaissance, while portraying Putinism as the guarantor of stability and order. [...] In short, they have transformed all the diverse hypotheses about Putin's popularity from partial explanations into a single, dominant, and overwhelming reality.
"The capture of television." Wow. Worth remembering (for us internet nerds especially) that TV is still the medium that basically defines reality anywhere on earth that has, like, electricity and is not San Francisco or Tokyo.
P.S. "... more skillful, effective, and all-encompassing than anything the Soviets ever conceived" -- jeez!
Lenin Shot at Finland Station
Now that's a title!
From a couple of years ago, some ruminations on counterfactual from Slavoj iek. I don't agree with him on lots of things, but there are some interesting thoughts on the function of revolutions here. (Ha ha, I know what you're thinking: That's exactly what I've been looking for!)
He ends with this:
In the revolutionary explosion, another utopian dimension shines through, that of universal emancipation, which is in fact the 'excess' betrayed by the market reality that takes over on the morning after. This excess is not simply abolished or dismissed as irrelevant, but is, as it were, transposed into the virtual state, as a dream waiting to be realised.
That makes me think of the closing scene of China Mieville's Iron Council, which I won't give away -- but I will say it is one of the best and most correct-seeming conclusions to a revolution ever put to page or screen. Wishlist-worthy.
November 6, 2007
David from Ironic Sans snapped some pretty wonderful shots of kids in his Upper West Side building on Halloween.
'You're Asking Me Whether the Book is True'
The A.V. Club interviews Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi. No great revelations -- just smart and interesting throughout. Oh, but wait, there is this:
AVC: What's the film's status? Is there actually a director attached at this point?
YM: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director who did Amélie.
That's pretty crazy! I hope it actually comes to pass.
If I was Wes Anderson, instead of devoting my next two-year creative cycle to another big monolithic movie like The Darjeeling Limited, I would instead spend it making a series of 15-minute shorts like The Hotel Chevalier: one every three months, eight or so total. People would subscribe to them, on DVD or digital-whatever. It'd be great!
November 5, 2007
It's been widely linked, but I just watched Malcolm Gladwell's recent talk about genius and it's super-interesting. Quote:
Modern problems require quantity over quality. You're better off with a large numbers of smart guys than a small number of geniuses.
Gladwell talks at length about Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who solved Fermat's Last Theorem. He didn't really do it alone, though, and he didn't do it quickly: In fact he literally sat down with the problem for like seven years straight.
I'm fairly enamored of this very specific, very determined identification of My Problem to Solve. It seems like Larry Lessig is doing something similar with the problem of corruption. It's like: "This is my new thing. I'm going to study up, apply myself, and figure it out. Oh by the way, I expect it to take ten years." Very cool.
Ze Returns (Sort Of)
Extended video riff from Ze Frank. He is floating in abstract white riff-space instead of sitting in his apartment. But even so: What does this portend??