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September 12, 2009

How Green Is My Metropolis, The Book

Tim says,

David Owen has a new book, titled Green Metropolis, that will be released next week. His 2004 New Yorker essay "Green Manhattan" [PDF] is a classic. The book looks like an extended treatment of the same idea.

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan— the most densely populated place in North America —rank first in public-transit use and last in percapita greenhouse-gas production, and they consume gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.

These achievements are not accidents. Spreading people thinly across the countryside may make them feel green, but it doesn’t reduce the damage they do to the environment. In fact, it increases the damage, while also making the problems they cause harder to see and to address. Owen contends that the environmental problem we face, at the current stage of our assault on the world’s nonrenewable resources, is not how to make teeming cities more like the pristine countryside. The problem is how to make other settled places more like Manhattan, whose residents presently come closer than any other Americans to meeting environmental goals that all of us, eventually, will have to come to terms with.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:55 PM

Media Physics with Prof. Hova

Robin says,

Pretty amazingly trenchant observation from Jay-Z:

He now calls the old record companies "archaic," and says they made a huge error in 2000 when they sued to stop the original Napster, which popularized free file sharing: "They had it all in one place coming through one hole, where they could control it. They shut that down, and just opened the floodgates. Now everyone's running their own Napster. Now it's just a hole in the universe, and it's too late."

"Now it's just a hole in the universe." That really is the right image for the craziness we now face. Media space-time torn asunder. Well-established principles of album acceleration and movie momentum no longer apply. It's just a hole in the universe!

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:40 PM

Kindle Metrics

Robin says,

Forgive me while I crow for just a moment: Mr. Penumbra just hit what I think is a new peak in the Kindle store. It's the 937th bestselling item in the entire Kindle universe. The fourth-bestselling short story. The third-bestselling "techno thriller."

The sad truth: As best I can figure, that rank was driven by about 30 copies over the past two days.

Alas, Kindle. Your universe is small indeed.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:26 PM

September 11, 2009

The Tao of Lego

Robin says,

I'm with Jason when he says Legos are becoming just another single-use plastic toy.

But, even as the sets get more corporate, Lego builders get more creative. And, my god. I just cannot comprehend how people build some of this stuff:

The mech from District 9, perfectly rendered, with room for a Lego minifig inside.

Another Legomech, so alive and full of personality. (My 10-year-old self would have traded scraps of soul for the secrets in these bricks.)

Spaceships cooler than anything Lego has ever sold.

And, my favorite, the "microspace" movement, which is like the haiku form of Lego-building. The emphasis is on economy of construction and wee tiny scale. And yet: Danger. Style. Speed. Drama. Each one is like a little puzzle, sometimes a little joke.

This, my friends, is the tao of Lego.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:24 PM
Robin's thoughts: :-)... >>

Present at the Creation, Part Two

There's always been a funny connection between Snarkmarket and Current.

After all, introduction aside, my very first Snarkmarket post inaugurated the "Gore TV" category. More followed. November 2003. March 2004. ("Man, I thought I had put this behind me. But now I'm all excited about it again.") May.

But then what? How did I end up, not too many months later, here in San Francisco, working for what was then called INdTV?

off to work
Me in San Francisco, spring 2005. Current HQ in background.

On August 1, 2004, I sent an email to Joel Hyatt, INdTV's CEO. (I found his address on the web. After searching for days.) In the email, I introduced myself—a reporter/producer/blogger in St. Petersburg, Florida, with two years of experience at a non-profit journalism institute—and lobbed in an idea for how this new TV channel could use the web in an interesting way. And, more importantly, I promised (threatened?) to follow up with another idea, and another, and another. Thirty-one total. An August of ideas.

To his everlasting credit, and to my everlasting gratitude, Joel's reply did not say "never email me again, you weird kid." Rather: "OK, let's see what you've got."

Keep in mind that I had about four ideas cooked up when I sent that first message. And then my part of St. Petersburg got evacuated because of a hurricane. And then I drove cross-country, from Florida up to Michigan, then over to California, stopping at the wifi-enabled rest stops along I-80, dispatching ideas, racing to come up with more. It was a pretty crazy month.

The final idea, sent on August 31, was, perhaps, predictable: You should hire me!

And again, this is a point at which Joel could very reasonably have said "you weird kid." Instead, he invited me into the city for lunch.

At Current, I've been, successively, an interactive producer, a blogger, a channel manager, a futurist (note: bad title choice), ad sales adjunct faculty, and the vice president of strategy. I've been here for just a hair under five years.

But finally, there's just too much other cool stuff to do. Today is my last day.

Current is the company, the idea, that brought me to San Francisco, and I have a lot of people to thank for the depth and breadth of my Current experience. But none so centrally as Joel, who took a chance on a 24-year-old who sent a bunch of emails. I mean, guys: This is big. This is what makes lives happen, or not.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more reflections to share, but I'll leave it at that for now. Mostly, I wanted to tell the tale of that fall five years ago because it makes the step I'm about to take, in the fall of 2009, seem relatively conservative by comparison. Ha!

Here's the agenda:

First: Spend the next fifty days absolutely jamming on this book. On one level, this is just simple necessity. I sort of set a trap for myself here, didn't I? On another level, I had an epiphany the other day: There is nothing in the entire world I would rather do for the next two months than work my ass off to create something wonderful for the people on this list. Not sure I've ever had quite that level of clarity before. Gotta say: I like it.

Then: Consulting—for Current, for starters. Freelancing, in a few different domains. There's more writing in the works. And some bigger ideas, which I won't try to squeeze into this post. But I won't keep you waiting for too long, I promise. I'm going to need your help!

Update: Ha hahaha. I got a web-monitoring text message this morning saying that was getting slammed with visitors, and I'm thinking to myself, "Wow, jeez, big news... I guess?" Nope, different reason. Shoulda known!

Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:13 | Comments (8) | Permasnark
File under: Gore TV, Media Galaxy, Self-Disclosure

September 10, 2009

Tim's thoughts: I *absolutely* wish I still had access to my MSU and UChicago email accounts. I remember on Septe... >>

Kleinfeld's Got the Past Futures Beat

I'm sure you saw this, because the NYT's been promoting it: Remembering a Future That Many Feared by N. R. Kleinfeld. The idea is to look back to September 12, 2001, and recall the widely-shared fears and assumptions of the moment:

New York would become a fortress city, choked by apprehension and resignation, forever patrolled by soldiers and submarines. Another attack was coming. And soon.


If a crippled downtown Manhattan were to have any chance of regeneration, ground zero had to be rebuilt quickly, a bricks and mortar nose-thumbing to terror.

First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened? The reporter's job is straightforward. Interview the past. Report the present.

This setup is so good it made me gasp—really—as I started in on the first few grafs and realized what Kleinfeld was up to. Talk about context. We can't improve our decision-making, our foresight, if we never go back to look at the decisions we made—the futures we feared—and compare them to reality.

This kind of story—maybe it's more "history light" than journalism, I don't know—ought to be standard practice. Let's look at the wailing and teeth-gnashing of just nine months ago, re: the economy. First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened?

Our memories are so short. Our imaginations are so... adaptable. We don't notice them changing. This story totally represents a kind of Long Now thinking, if you ask me—in the sense that it says our vision of the future is something we can inspect, analyze, criticize, report. I mean, that headline says it all, and some copy editor should get a prize for it: "Remembering a Future." Exactly.

Anyway, this is all to say, big ups to N.R. Kleinfeld and the NYT. This was a great idea.

Posted September 10, 2009 at 11:30 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Recommended

I Hear Prada's Collection Is All Voronoi Diagrams This Season

Robin says,

Here's a great post about Voronoi diagrams: what they are, why they're cool, and how to draw them. sevensixfive writes: "they can be used to describe almost literally everything: from cell phone networks to radiolaria, at every scale: from quantum foam to cosmic foam."

After you have drawn your own Voronoi diagram by hand, perhaps you will enjoy this rad Voronoi diagram animation made with Processing.

You know what Voronoi diagrams always really remind me of? Skin! But also, I suppose, leaves.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:25 PM

Taking It to the Streets

Robin says,

New Kickstarter update in which I visit a local printer and am simultaneously disappointed and emboldened.

(Nerd question: In an upcase headline, you'd leave "to" lowercase, as I did, right? Or no? I always hem and haw.)

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:16 PM

Pet Sounds, Renewed

Matt says,

I think I forgot to post this a month or so ago when I couldn't stop listening to it. Some genius had the amazing idea to remove the backing vocals from all the tracks on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The result is kind of breathtaking, especially "God Only Knows":

The difficulty and the peculiarity of these vocal lines can get obscured in the full versions. Just listen to the fugue section of that song. Man.

And of course, "Sloop John B," my other favorite song from Pet Sounds:


Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:31 PM

The Correspondent-Fixer Dialectic

Tim says,

George Packer on the death of Sultan Munadi: "It's Always the Fixer Who Dies."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:52 AM

Mr. Penumbra Speaks

Robin says,

This is awesome! The folks at Escape Pod contacted me a while back about doing an audio version of Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store. I said yes, of course... and now, here it is!

I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:52 AM

September 9, 2009

The Book's Terms of Service

Robin says,

If this was the set, then this, from Matthew Battles, is the spike: The Book: Terms of Service. Simultaneously sharp satire and a really strong, beautiful statement of values.

It's a reminder that books at their best are not just intellectual objects, not just aesthetic objects, but democratic objects.

And it makes me think of Salman Rushdie's claim:

Literature is the one place in any society where within the secrecy of our own heads, we can hear voices talking about everything in every possible way.

Go go go read it read it read it.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:35 PM

More Hud Mo

Hudson Mohawke remixes Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)"—and wow, whatever happened to Tweet? Her time has come, and she's nowhere to be found!

Previously. Here's his album. Via TMRW.

Posted September 9, 2009 at 9:09 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Music

The Virgin and the Inkjet

Robin says,

Read this post for the sound of the words alone! The Late Age of Print and the Storm of Progress! I mean, it's positively Tolkien-esque. Living through the sickly mutant collapse of industrial media? Lame. Living through the Late Age of Print? Awesome.

Great stuff all around from Matthew Battles. And this part is so slick:

The public sphere's terms-of-service, the product of five hundred years of cultural contest, are a better deal than anything Facebook, Amazon, or Google Books has to offer. To keep them current in the digital age, as Richard suggests, we must turn around and face front.

"The public sphere's terms-of-service." Cool.

The only thing missing now is a comment from Tim Carmody, but maybe if we set the snare just so... and step back...

(Actually, I guess this was Tim's comment, really. But now I wanna hear him talk Walter Benjamin.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:37 PM

September 8, 2009

The Atlantic Has a Good Month

Robin says,

I still have a soft spot for The Atlantic, the magazine that introduced me to, um, thinking. Certainly to the thrill of great journalism. It hasn't always been as interesting in recent years (James Fallows provides an epic ongoing exception) but wow, this latest issue is really good:

A paean to Al Jazeera, the only cable TV network in the world that actually offers "a visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously."

California's new energy economy.

Love this one: the myths that led media companies astray. Because, "[if] we take Netscape's public offering in 1995 as the birth of the Internet era, on average over the next 10 years the biggest media conglomerates achieved less than a third of the returns available from the S&P as a whole. But even more telling is that these companies, as a group, had also underperformed the S&P for much of the previous decade, before the Internet upended their industry. Indeed, one aspect of the media business has remained largely unchanged for a generation: the lousy performance of its leading companies."

And the cover story, a powerful piece by Andrew Sullivan, written as a letter to George W. Bush about torture and "absolute evil"—clear, descriptive, urgent.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:29 PM

Auto-Tune the News Goes Mainstream (Sorta)

Robin says,

Auto-Tune the News feat. Alexa Chung! (Link goes straight to "God Bless America" break-down at the end. "Who is gettin' blessed? America. And who is gonna bless it? GOD.")

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:05 PM
Saheli's thoughts: Facebook could do it, with it's lists, but it's not an intuitive interface. This is basically wha... >>

The Slider of Trust

I just wrote a quick update over at Kickstarter, accessible to my project backers only, and I have to say, it was an interesting experience. It felt different; more than usual, I could picture somewhat specifically who I was writing for. And this post is about the music I've been listening to, so I could include a few MP3s without feeling like a pirate.

What if more web writing had this kind of thing built into it? Imagine—I'm brainstorming real-time right now, so this probably won't make any sense—imagine a little slider on the blog entry editing screen that goes from "free / full public access" to "bulk subs / high access" to "patrons only / inner circle." It's a question (I'm discovering) not primarily of "content value" (like, "save the good stuff for the paying customers!") but rather of intimacy and voice. In one mode, the vast howling weirdness of the public web. In the other, a defined group of people you know and, on some level, trust.

So forget the payment thing, explicit in Kickstarter and implicit in my scenario above. What if it was entirely about concentric circles of trust and—what else? Helpfulness? Constructiveness? "Propensity to read, understand, improve and articulate"? You want to try an idea out, you want a bit of freedom to think out loud—to suggest something stupid, to fail! So you set the slider to "friends and allies." You'll write a fully-baked, armor-plated public version later. But not yet.

Posted September 8, 2009 at 10:47 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy

September 7, 2009

The Popular vs. the Acclaimed

Matt says,

Great, great, great AskMeFi thread: In the art forms you are experienced or well versed in, what kinds of stuff is notorious for being only liked by the experts, and what kinds of stuff is notorious for only being liked by less experienced or educated casual consumers?

Examples of artists (or works of art) beloved almost exclusively by other artists in their domain include Rothko, Linux, Cloud Gate, Yasujirō Ozu, Ernie Bushmiller, Rush, the screenplay "BALLS OUT" (pdf) and Paranoia Agent.

There are also some fun minor art-snob arguments, and mini-digressions on the nature of taste. As well as a terrific New Yorker essay I never read about the appeal of Charles Bukowski.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:03 PM
Tim's thoughts: I contend that it is impossible to give a meaningful side-view of a round coin. For minimal cover... >>

American Numismatic Society, I Salute You

We've been talking a lot about the future of digitization, about how much digitization needs to improve, about the severe limits that digitization still imposes on many things—books, for instance.

So, here's a change of pace. Here is the almost perfectly digitizable object, almost perfectly digitized.


Small objects, easy to photograph in their entirety? Check.


Defined number of important views? Check. (Obviously two.)


Standard set of metadata? Check. (And click on one of the images above to see an example.)

So, given the ideal material for a digital archive, the American Numismatic Society delivers. There's a powerful search engine but their collection is pretty browsable, too. And, listen, I only collect coins that I intend to spend on the train, but I defy you not to get a little lost in these pages.

And every coin has its own stable permalink! Swoon!

The only thing missing is that you can't heft the coins, feel their contours. Fair enough. But I'll bet you could even generate 3D models from these images, using the depth information implied by the shadows. When I finally have a home 3D printer I'll crank out some of these guys and send 'em around.

And you know, ancient coins are perfect tokens of historical imagination, especially when captured so crisply. They're totally familiar but deeply strange. You can imagine keeping one in your pocket, feeling it in your hand.

Check these off the list. Now we just gotta get those books right.

Posted September 7, 2009 at 5:26 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Media Galaxy

Inside Every Don Draper Is Alexander Portnoy

If you don't watch Mad Men, and haven't read or don't know about Phillip Roth's novel Portnoy's Complaint, this doesn't mean anything to you.

If you do, and have, these two guys seem as far apart as any two white men inhabiting New York in the sixties could reasonably be.

And yet, there's something about Draper and Portnoy's shared desire to jump out of history (the history of the world, the history of their own families), their sense that this is the time to do it, and that sex and language are the mechanisms to do so, that pulls the two together. If they met, I think they'd have a lot to say to each other.

(Inspired by this 40th-anniversary article about Portnoy's Complaint in the Guardian.)

Posted September 7, 2009 at 9:16 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Society/Culture, Television

September 6, 2009

The Xerox Moment

Joni Evans's memoir-ish essay nicely connects the late Mad Men-era (in her case, of publishing, not advertising) to the digital present by way of an archaeology of office technology. It's the intermediate transformations she registers that are more interesting, and maybe - arguably - more significant:

The Xerox machine meant that suddenly, not one manuscript was submitted to one publisher, but that 10 copies went to 10 publishers simultaneously. The first publisher to claim the book won, cutting a six-week process to six days or sometimes six hours.

Agents soon realized that they could auction books to publishers and not settle for the first bid. Knopf would bid against Putnam, Simon & Schuster would bid against Random House, and so on. The fax machine accelerated the process of signing contracts, and beamed manuscripts overseas for worldwide auctions.

Our lives changed. Agents descended on our formerly humble authors, empowering the new literary lions with Hollywood-like contracts and making us dizzy with new rules.

We were all drunk on the new attention. We hired public relations firms, sought Barbara Walters interviews and romanced the “Today” show. The heads of the B. Dalton/Waldenbooks/Borders/Barnes & Noble chains now sat next to John Updike at dinner tables at booksellers’ conventions.

It's nice, too, that the essay begins where her career does, in the early 1970s; an older observer would see the tech and cultural changes she inherited, the fleet of typewriters, rolodexes, and mimeographs, and the institution of "the manuscript girl," as the rupture, not the origin. The mood she establishes isn't so much nostalgia for a lost Eden as the excitement (coupled with dread) of an industry that was always living in the future.

Posted September 6, 2009 at 5:48 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Object Culture

September 5, 2009

Context-Aware Electronics

Tim says,

Jamais Cascio on devices that pay attention:

Imagine a desktop with a camera that knows to shut down the screen and eventually go to sleep when you walk away (but stays awake when you're sitting there reading something or thinking), and will wake up when you sit down in front of it (no mouse-jiggling required).

Or a system with a microphone that listens for the combination of a phone ringing (sudden loud noise) followed by a nearby voice saying "hello" (or similar greeting), and will mute the system automatically.

When you go down this road, extrapolating from existing abilities (accelerometers, face and voice recognition, light detection) to more complex algorithms, the possibilities get correspondingly more complicated:

What prompted this line of thought for me was the story about the Outbreaks Near Me application for the iPhone. It struck me that a system that provided near-real-time weather, pollution, pollen, and flu (etc.) information based on watching where you are -- and learning where you typically go, to give you early warnings -- was well within our capabilities.

Or a system that listened for coughing -- how many different voices, how often, how intense, where -- to add to health maps used by epidemiologists (and other mobile apps).

It seems to be almost an axiom that the applications of digital technology that are potentially the most beneficial for the aggregate likewise require the most information from the individual user - and therefore creep us out to the point where we're reluctant to put them into practice. There's got to be a name for this paradox - a digital analogue to The Fable of the Bees.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:24 PM

September 4, 2009

Dan's thoughts: Also, in curmudgeonly agreement: pushing coffee on kids (even high class coffee) is distasteful.<... >>

Institutions Of Reading

What is happening here?

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus [of Cushing Academy] about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks - the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Earlier today I wrote: "This... is not about technology or pedagogy, but remodeling - and only accidentally the other things."

I should note that I mean exactly the opposite of "this is no big deal." To clarify - eliminating the stacks in favor of a) a coffee shop and b) spaces for laptops and digital readers is a reorganization of space and expenditure of money, for which the technological and pedagogical commitments and consequences, while absolutely real, have not been fully thought through.

Let's consider some of them. Well, let's start with just one.

At present, the Kindle, like all other electronic readers, is conceived, designed, and marketed as a consumer object. It is designed for individual readers to purchase individual libraries of digital books, which they can then carry with them anywhere. Its closest analogue in the technological world is probably the digital music and media player. Its closest analogue in the history of reading is the consumer-owned paperback book.

For the most part, we've internalized and naturalized this mode of reading and all of its rituals. Readers are people who own books. But those aren't the only kind of readers, and (maybe more importantly) that's not the only kind of reading.

We read books that aren't ours. We read stray pieces of paper that are shoved in front of our face and then thrown or tucked away. We read maps and charts posted on walls, newspapers left on chairs, business cards handled and filed, forms that we fill out and return, post-it notes that we wrote as reminders to ourselves weeks and months ago. And a hundred and one other things in a thousand and one different ways.

The Kindle models the reading behavior and rituals of the mainstream owner of books, who is also not accidentally, the mainstream customer of While there is considerable demographic and behavioral overlap between this person and the library patron, the rituals of use are actually quite different. Here are a few things to look at:

  1. Most books (and nonbooks) in libraries are intended and frequently designed to be read by many different people over a long range of time. To use the language of kitchen-appliances, it's a commercial-grade item. To use the language of IT, books in libraries are terminals or workstations, not PCs. But there's no such thing (yet) as a multi-user, workstation Kindle.
  2. We usually privilege the big library ritual of picking out a book, checking it out, and taking it home, but most library materials are designed to be read in-place. Rare materials, noncirculating reference, the old card catalog, and of course, books you look up and thumb through, maybe even make some notes or photocopy a few pages from, and return to be shelved. Some of this reading, e.g., searching a library's entire catalog, a computer terminal performs admirably. But a Kindle doesn't actually do this very well. Its chief asset, portability, actually works against it; and when you tether a Kindle to a particular building, you've eliminated much of its function altogether.
  3. Libraries are collections, typically quite specialized ones, optimized in terms of audience (public, research, youth) if nothing else. And then there are collections within collections - subject wings and reading rooms. Kindles are omnibus devices, offering no particular specializations. In fact, you CAN'T make the Kindle a specialized device, either in its hardware or its software, because no particular reading specialization has a dominant foothold. (This is my impression, anyways; I'd love to hear otherwise).

In short, when it comes to electronic reading machines, there is no equivalent to the library stacks or the computer workstation. There is also no real equivalent to the newsstand or bulletin board, the teacher's chalkboard, or the family message board. Everything is geared towards the individual reader-owner.

One of my favorite talks, that I return to again and again whenever I'm trying to figure out consumer electronic media, is the joint interview Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gave with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher a few years ago. I'm paraphrasing, but one of the things Gates talks about are the different spaces of experiencing digital technology. The "four-foot experience" - whether you're watching TV or gaming or watching a movie - is fundamentally different from that of the office PC or the laptop or the handheld. They're reciprocally different. They require different technologies, different interfaces, to match their different possibilities and inherited rituals.

We haven't figured this out for digital readers yet - how to vary the hardware and software to match the different possibilities and rituals of reading in different contexts. We don't have the ordinary library experience, or classroom experience, let alone the Library of Congress experience. In that vacuum, the only thing you can recreate when you pull out the stacks is a coffeeshop or cybercafe. There is nothing else to offer.

By the way, please vote - today! - for our SxSW panel on Kindle 2020. This is one of the things we'll be talking about.

(Below the fold is the point in the thread where I can become a prematurely old man.)

... Read more ....
Posted September 4, 2009 at 12:21 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Technosnark

September 3, 2009

Anna Politkovskaya

Robin says,

The Russian Supreme Court orders a fresh investigation of Anna Politkovskaya's assassination.

I was on a panel with Politkovskaya and Piers Morgan back in 2005, in Stockholm. She made both of us—rightly—seem like complete lightweights. Pure gravity and courage.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:30 PM

Colorful, But Not Cute

Robin says,


Two things I like about this interview with The Little Friends of Printmaking: a) the colors, and b) the process. Near the end of the post, you get to see every stage in the creation of a new poster. Pretty cool.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:38 PM


Robin says,

From Diderot's Encyclopédie, 1752:

California, large peninsula in North America, north of the Southern Sea, inhabited by savages who worship the moon. Each family there lives as it pleases, without being subject to any form of government. The Spanish have built a fort there called Our Lady of Loreto.

Seems about right.

Michigan's collaborative translation project around the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert is, I have to warn you, pretty fun to click around.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:27 AM

September 2, 2009

grover's thoughts: One of the greatest pleasures of being on that New Haven college campus was the view of the contr... >>

Dual-Wielding in the Stacks

Re: the Phillips Exeter Academy Library designed by Louis Kahn—

—I'm with Matthew Battles: "it would make a fine space in which to set a futuristic first-person shooter."

Also: Check out this teaser from Alex Roman, who made the video above. CG card catalogs! It's beautiful.

Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:26 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkitecture

The Mortal Enemy of the Hyphen

Robin says,

Mostly we just called him "Wolfe+585."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:33 PM

The Sense Of America

Tim says,

The NYT reconfigured their Baghdad Bureau blog to make At War, adding reports from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere as well as Iraq. This post by Atheer Kakan, an NYT translator and journalist in Iraq who (along with his family) was recently allowed to emigrate to the US as a political refugee, is downright astonishing: emotional and observant, sentimental and clear-eyed all at once:

My family was starving, so the first thing we did after we sat down was to bring them some food. I went to a fast-food shop and I ordered lots of American food. There was something with melting cheese. I think it was Mexican. And lots of French fries. The cashier girl was asking me if I wanted things, and I was approving everything she said.

Eventually I had lots of food to carry to my family, who were desperately waiting for me. I put down the food and we started eating, and I looked to my children, who seemed to be enjoying their time, and I released another breath as I felt that I was doing the right thing for all of us. It wasn’t the food that I really enjoyed; it was the sense of America that food was carrying.

The airport was so busy; it looked like there was some school trip happening because there were some mothers saying goodbye to their kids and giving them some instructions about what to do and what not to do.

The teenage girls looked impatient and were mocking everything the mothers were saying. I imagined my son Abdullah and my daughter Malak doing the same thing in the future, and my heart was shaking as I laughed at the idea of how I would look like at that time.

A fat boy was sitting behind us. He seemed curiously eager to understand our language, but when he failed he was looking at us cautiously. His looks didn’t insult me, not because he is a kid but because it is time for me to taste the meaning of peace. I lay back my head and relaxed my eyes.

I hope Atheer is writing a book.

[For more on the poorly-rewarded heroism of Iraqi translators, see George Packer's "Betrayed" (which, also astonishingly, was written two and a half years ago).]

P.S.: Atheer Kakan was also the Times' reporter in the room for the Bush/Maliki shoe-throwing press conference:

After the press conference we were locked inside the room for a while. It was very tense.

While we were inside the Prime Minister’s bodyguards tried to delete or confiscate film of the incident from the cameramen, but the journalists were all switching tapes quickly, like magicians, because no one wanted to lose such shots.

Later they let us all go, we do not know why. They just told us: “You can go, no one will try to delete your tapes.”

One of Mr. Maliki’s bodyguards called us ugly names because they thought that we were participating in a conspiracy, that we had all known about what was going to happen.

“We cooperated with you, and you betrayed us. You should have stopped him,” he said. Another guard told me me: “You are all Baathists.” He then raised his finger and said, “You are not allowed to say anything” in a very scary way.

Another tried to beat me after I objected because he was pushing an Iraqi journalist. I told him, “Why are you doing that? He is just a journalist.” He started calling us “sons of bitches” and other dirty names.

He also wrote a lovely essay about the historical imagination in Iraq. Kakan has a Sunni background, but briefly worked for the newspaper of a Shiite political party after the fall of Saddam:

We had many differences, discussions and arguments at that time. One of the most noticeable things about them, that I have never forgotten, was the influence of history on those who came back home after decades of marginalization, pursuit and execution.

Now that they were victorious and it was time for them to exercise the influence that they had been prevented from doing before, the one historical fact they kept in front of their eyes was that they would not let history repeat itself and let what happened after the revolution of 1920 against the British Empire happen again.

Then, their analysis was, that because the Shiites refused to deal, the British who negotiated with the Sunni minority and installed it in power, commencing nearly a century of Sunni dominance.

That historical ‘mistake’ of 1920 wasn’t just the obsession of Dawa. Many Shiites say that after this time they were marginalized and never treated fairly as a majority. Even now this historical fear still affects many of their decisions. They argue “we cannot neglect the political process, so that no one will ever turn around and take control again, after all the blood that we sacrificed.”

After a year I left and I carried with me all the memories about how the Shiites have suffered for centuries, and how history has influenced their positions and attitudes in the present time.

Iraqis adore history. You can hardly find an Iraqi who does not talk about the past in every conversation. Sometimes it prevents them from dealing with the present and planning for the future.

This what historians and sociologists say about Iraqis - they love history so much, to the level that they live in it.

Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 6:46 PM

Everyday Super Powers

Robin says,

This is a fun idea, and The Morning News' execution of it is crisp and super-readable: What's your hidden talent? Your... super power?

I liked this one, from Jessica Francis Kane:

You know how sometimes when you're trying to pour something from one glass into another, the liquid mostly just runs back down the edge of the first glass and spills all over the counter? Well, not for me it doesn't. Not a drop. I'm the daughter of a chemistry professor and this is my superpower. You have a half-pint you want to finish up in your pint glass so you don't look like such a lightweight? I'm the one you need. The trick is speed, angle, and confidence. You have to go fast, not tip slowly. You have to hold the emptying glass high, not touch it to the lip of the filling glass. Maybe it's a little thing, but aren't superpowers what we make of them? Lots of very thirsty people have been grateful for my help.

So what's yours? I'll start: I can fall asleep on any airplane, in any position, in under two minutes. Flight is my ultimate soporific. Now, great powers sometimes come great cost, and to tell you the truth, I have a hard time staying awake on planes if I have to. But more often, this is a blessing. Mmmokay see you guys in New York. Zonk.

Comments (16) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:57 AM

Nobody's Talking About Polygons Here

Robin says,

The thing I like best about Seth Schiesel's NYT piece on The Beatles: Rock Band is that it's entirely about the game's cultural impact, the way it fits into our world. There's a bit about the play mechanic, too, for those unfamiliar with Rock Band. But nothing about the technical dimensions of the game—not the barest mention of framerate or polygon count or HDR lighting effects or clever combo systems or... ahhh.

I know this isn't unique, and game criticism has been getting a lot better in the past few years. But that the piece could hinge on this claim—

By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience.

In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.

—seems like a watershed to me. Even if he's wrong, I love the fact that Seth Schiesel can make that claim and then spend the rest of the piece trying to back it up.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:32 AM

Sherlock Holmes Had a Click-Through Rate of Two Percent

Robin says,

The author meets the cloud, episode one: naming characters with Google AdWords.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:12 AM

September 1, 2009

Peter's thoughts: They're not very similar, but somehow this reminded me of: <a href=" >>

Radiolab the Movie

How, how, did it take me two weeks to post this Radiolab-esque, Radiolab-inspired video? It's called "Moments" and it lives up to its name. The snippets that Will Hoffman has captured are non-trivial and non-clichéd. Many of them are brain-sparking and smile-inducing. (I think I liked the frisbee on the roof best of all. Is that weird?)

What this is not is the Radiolab of video. That designation, that honor, remains unbestowed. It awaits an entrant that breaks from the cut-cut-cut of traditional video (Hoffman's style is great, but it's... straight cuts) and reimagines that glowing frame as fully as Radiolab has reimagined the stuff that comes out of two speakers.

However, "Moments" is still terrific, so watch it.

Posted September 1, 2009 at 11:16 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy

The Working Poor In America

Tim says,

... get stolen from, retaliated against, hurt at work and convinced not to complain, and paid less than the minimum wage, not just sometimes, but most of the time:

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week...

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay...

According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans... [W]omen were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.

Excuse me; I need to go punch something. And then maybe throw up. Then punch something else.

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:03 PM

Run Run Run Run JUMP!

Robin says,

Ahhh! This is great: Canabalt, a one-button video game. It is pure style and velocity; I defy you to play the first 15 seconds and not feel a frantic thrill.

Personal record is 2,983 meters and it was all a gray blur by the end there.

(Via things.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:44 PM

More Meta-Marvel

Robin says,

I did a quick email back-and-forth with my friend Anastasia over at Ypulse about the Disney/Marvel merger. In short:

So that's my concern. Disney's been mining (and protecting) old IP for years. Acquiring Marvel isn't a move to balance that strategy; it deepens it. The tagline for a combined Disney/Marvel might be: "Finding new ways to sell you the same stories, again and again, forever."
Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:36 PM

The Second-Day Story

Robin says,

Even as the news business fluxes and freaks out, its history and culture continue to provide useful tools for thinking about the world. This probably shouldn't be a surprise, as journalists have been in the thinking-about-the-world business for a long time.

Case in point: Matt cross-posted his great parts-of-stories-you-don't-usually-get post over at, and in the comments there, Roy Peter Clark wrote:

I think what we need is something a bit different from explainers. I don't have a term for it, except maybe for "anticipators." The reporter does not just report on what just happened, or even look back a stretch. The reporter needs a crystal ball, based upon solid research and continuing coverage.

The old PM daily writers knew how to do this and we may have to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear: that is to learn how to write a second day story on the first day. Keep up the great work, pal.

Emphasis mine. How great is that? "Write a second-day story on the first day."

First, it definitely flows into Matt's five concrete steps to improve the news—particularly number four, "track the unknowns."

Second, it's so much bigger than news! Isn't that what great science fiction is? Isn't that what we try to do here at Snarkmarket at least some of the time? "Write a second-day story on the first day."

P.S. Yes, I realize I just implicitly compared journalism to science fiction. Oops.

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:25 PM

Adam Smith vs. Blackbeard

Robin says,

This sounds like a made-up book title, but oh, it's real: The Invisible Hook, on "the hidden economics of pirates." Caleb Crain writes it up:

Are pirates socialists or capitalists? Lately, it’s become hard to tell the categories apart.

(Via Omnivoracious's neat meta-book-review.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:56 AM

Einstein Would Love This Stuff

Robin says,

Georges Rousse is one of those terrific artists that creates large-scale illusions—2D shapes that appear to hover, almost dimensionless, in 3D space when your vantage point is just so.

Bet this video, at this moment, will make you smile.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:16 AM
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