The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Typing in the dark

Love this:

INTERVIEWER Were you actually typing in the dark?

NICHOLSON BAKER: Yes. I had a couple different laptops because they were not all that dependable, and one of them had a slider bar. I could slide the screen brightness down to almost nothing, so I was sitting in complete darkness. The screen would have just the tiniest hint of phosphorescence and a faint crackle of static electricity. I thought, This is an option Dickens did not have.

From the Paris Review interview.

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Divine geometry

This blows my mind:

In North America, some Muslims pray to the northeast, in the direction of the great-circle route (the shortest path along the planet’s surface) to Mecca, whereas others pray to the southeast.

From an article with a winking title: A sine on the road to Mecca.

If I was Muslim, I think I’d pray to the northeast. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s pretty amazing to imagine a prayer shooting out of your mind and blazing through the cold Arctic reaches on its way to the sweltering kaaba.


A few subscriptions for 2013

I haven’t been writing much here at Snarkmarket, but I do still lurk in the Old World. By which I mean of course: Google Reader. And what feeds there do I follow? Here are a few you might not know about. If you follow them, I guarantee your 2013 will be just a little bit more interesting:

  • Kevin Slavin’s Fresser is consistently smart, weird, provocative. He’s a master of the tumblr aside, or tag-on, or whatever it’s called. Here’s a good example. He also posts the occasional glimpse into what is an interesting peripatetic life.
  • I’ve mentioned M. John Harrison several times here before. Besides being one of the best fiction writers in any genre of the whole early 21st century, he’s somehow a virtuoso web writer, with a style all his own. His Ambiente Hotel is perhaps my single favorite feed. I think I find its opacity and misdirection refreshing in a world of web content that goes down a little too easy; that knows its analytics dashboard a little too well.
  • I’m biased, but you know, my mom’s tumblr is really very good. Bits and pieces, words and images, all orbiting a few deep themes.
  • I almost hate to give this one away, because it’s such a treasured gem: Trivium is an infrequently-updated blog about… what exactly? Super-serious computer science? Algorithms? Set theory, crazy math, a bit of art? All of those things. My advice: subscribe, and even if you don’t understand any of the links—seriously, like none at all—you will enjoy the atmosphere. And you might even begin to imagine yourself a philosopher-programmer, almost gnostic in your meditations…
  • I have no idea how Noah Brier manages to post so much when he is simultaneously running a super-successful startup. Perhaps it’s just his startup’s content-selection algorithm posting on his behalf? Either way: there is just tons of consistently good stuff here, all at the nexus of media, technology, and culture.
  • Matt Webb’s posts are rare but oh they are good. This is what RSS is for, these days: you set a snare, leave it, and trap for yourself the words you want to read most. Trust me, just subscribe and wait for the feed to turn bold. It might take a few months. It will be worth it.

The state of VR

What a great post by Valve’s Michael Abrash. The content is interesting: a brisk summary of the technical challenges that still need to be tackled if goggle-style virtual reality or augmented reality are going to work and be compelling. So is the style: it reads like an internal memo—a really good ones. It’s not dumbed-down, not smoothed over for public consumption. There is serious study and rigorous thinking on display here. I wish more organizations deigned to share this kind of writing with the public.

One comment

A light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away

Tim Maly writes about the true architectural marvels of New York, not the skyscrapers, the low-slung brownstones, or the magnificent suspension bridges, but the rivers and islands and shorelines of the city itself:

In 1660, Pearl Street ran along the shore. Captain Kidd had a waterfront property at the corner of Pearl and Wall. Today, that site lies three blocks inland. In the 1690s, the City sold water lots to private would-be landowners, each forty feet wide. Purchasers agreed to infill forty feet into the river, leaving space for public access wharves on the far side. These wharves became Water Street, which is itself two blocks away from the shore today, thanks to subsequent infill.

When these areas were built up, landscapers didn’t build very high. As sea levels rise and the climate becomes increasingly wild, we now have a series of artificial flood plains populated by people who did not sign up to be residents of a flood plain.

You can roughly trace Manhattan and Brooklyn’s original shorelines by looking at a map of the flood zones. Take away Zone A, and you get a pretty good picture of the ancient boundary between water and land. Some of that territory didn’t use to be land at all. Much of it was marsh and wetland.

“The High Line,” Tim writes, “is an architectural marvel made possible by the dredging of Newark Bay.”

Tim’s essay reminds me of two of my favorite pieces of writing. The first, “Atchafalaya,” by the great John McPhee, is probably the classic account of human’s semi-tragic, quasi-doomed, but all-too-real attempts to remake and restabilize the relentless natural wonders on which we’re precipitously perched.

The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans. With its fresh water gone, its harbor a silt bar, its economy disconnected from inland commerce, New Orleans would turn into New Gomorrah… The industries were there because of the river. They had come for its navigational convenience and its fresh water. They would not, and could not, linger beside a tidal creek. For nature to take its course was simply unthinkable. The Sixth World War would do less damage to southern Louisiana. Nature, in this place, had become an enemy of the state.

The second is from Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika (also called The Man Who Disappeared). In the original draft of the book, Kafka gets key details of New York City’s geography “wrong,” so his editor Max Brod “corrected” them in the early published version. But I think Kafka’s absurd, imaginary architecture (restored in this translation) was entirely deliberate and from the standpoint of literature is actually far superior:

The bridge connecting New York to Boston hung delicately over the Hudson, and it trembled when you squinted to see it. It seemed entirely without traffic and underneath it ran an inanimate, smooth belt of water. Everything in both of these giant cities seemed empty and pointlessly displayed. As for the buildings, there was barely any difference between the large ones and the small. In the invisible deep of the streets, the bustle went on after its own manner, but nothing moved above it except for a light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away, but it was as if you could chase it away without any effort. Even in the harbor, the largest in the world, it was quiet, and only here and there, influenced by your memory of seeing it up close, you might believe you saw a ship pushing on for a short stretch. But you couldn’t follow it for long, it escaped from your eyes and couldn’t be found anymore.

Besides, it’s not as if the geography of New York is fixed and immutable anyways. We’ve built things nearly as flabbergasting as this.


Philip Roth’s iPhone

Charles McGrath interviews Philip Roth on the occasion of his retirement from fiction writing, and…

Nearby was an iPhone he had bought recently. “Why?” he said. “Because I’m free. Every morning I study a chapter in ‘iPhone for Dummies,’ and now I’m proficient. I haven’t read a word for two months. I pull this thing out and play with it.”

Godspeed, Philip Roth. I challenge you to a game of Letterpress.


Jumping through hoops

Check out the hoop dancers in the background of this Nelly Furtado video:

And then check out one of the hoop dancers, world champion Tony Duncan, on his own. It’s like a magic show! I’m pretty sure he is passing those hoops directly through his limbs!

Circuitously via Kate Beaton.

Will this be my text for the Snarkmarket Seminar??


Announcing the Snarkmarket Seminar

Update: Discovered I needed to wait an extra week to book the hotel rooms because of how far out it is. We should be able to confirm signups this week. – MT

Snarkmarket is nine years old today. At this point, I think of Snarkmarket as less of a blog and more of a collective of incredible people with similar (and often wonderfully divergent) fascinations who’ve happened upon each other at the right time. Years after the height of this blog’s activity, I still meet folks who introduce themselves with the question, “Hey, aren’t you Matt from Snarkmarket?”

In 2013, we want to try something that ties together many of the fascinations of this collective. We’ll be seeking about 30 fellow travelers to join us in a year-long, self-assembling digital seminar on media. Everyone will be a lecturer and everyone will be a participant in a series of weekly discussions focusing on a particular text or set of texts. It’ll culminate in a weekend of creation and collaboration in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Snarkmarket began.

First, we have to figure out who’s in. The price of admission will be a hotel room reservation at a hotel in St. Petersburg (official venue TBD) the weekend of November 2nd and 3rd, 2013. We’ll take care of actually booking the rooms. Next week, we’ll post more information on claiming a spot in the seminar. If you want to be in the loop when we do, shoot me a quick email at

Second, we have to create the syllabus. Starting Sunday, January 6th, we’ll have a weekly discussion led by a different seminar participant, focusing on a different set of texts. During the month of December, each participant will volunteer the text (or texts!) they want to discuss during their week at the virtual podium. It can be anything, of any vintage – a video, a book, an essay, a story, a game, an artwork – just as long as it says something fascinating to you about media today. Once we’ve identified the full set of texts, we’ll arrange a lecture calendar (with a few breaks for holidays and whatnot).

Weekly discussions get underway the week of January 6th. We’ll try to find a regular day and time that’s agreeable to as many members of the group as possible. The day after each discussion, the next participant at the virtual podium will introduce us to their text with a post telling us why they find it fascinating. Our weekly homework assignment is to participate in the comment thread about this post (you’re not getting graded on responses, so they can be short; “I’m not sure I saw the same resonances you did in this video” is a perfectly legitimate reaction).

In September, we’ll break to work on our final “papers.” These can obvs take any form you wish. They’ll be due by Sunday, October 20th. No more weekly discussions during this time.

Last, we gather in St. Pete. What will happen there, no one can know. We promise only wizardry and delight.

The last time we embarked on a grand adventure together, we wrote a book that’s still being talked about today. I’m beyond excited at the prospect of spending a year in study with this community, learning and sharing alongside one another. I hope you’ll join us.

Happy birthday, Snarkmarket. And happy birthday, Tim!


The spacesuit

Geoff’s eulogy of sorts for Lebbeus Woods is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time:

Because what I like about Lebbeus’s work is its nearly insane honesty, its straight-ahead declaration that nothing—genuinely and absolutely nothing—is here to welcome us or accept us or say yes to us. That there is no solid or lasting ground to build anything on, let alone anything out there other than ourselves expecting us to build it.

Architecture is thus an act—a delirious and amazing act—of construction for no reason at all in the literal sense that architecture is outside rational calculation. That is, architecture—capital-A architecture, sure—must be seen, in this context, as something more than just supplying housing or emergency shelter; architecture becomes a nearly astronomical gesture, in the sense that architecture literally augments the planetary surface. Architecture increases (or decreases) a planet’s base habitability. It adds something new to—or, rather, it complexifies—the mass and volume of the universe. It even adds time: B is separated from C by nothing, until you add a series of obstacles, lengthening the distance between them. That series of obstacles—that elongated and previously non-existent sequence of space-time—is architecture.

And later (emphasis mine):

Architecture, if you will, is a Wile E. Coyote moment where you look down and realize the universe is missing—that you are standing on empty air—so you construct for yourself a structure or space in which you might somehow attempt survival. Architecture is more than buildings. It is a spacesuit. It is a counter-planet—or maybe it is the only planet, always and ever a terraforming of this alien location we call the Earth.

Geoff has chosen a beautiful set of images to go with the piece, too.


Where’s Grant Morrison’s MacArthur?

Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz talk about literary writers, genre writers, and elite awards:

“We seem to think that things are changing because the people with privilege dabble across the board,” says Díaz, growing more animated. “I’ve noticed that genre fiction writers are more isolated than they’ve ever been. I think that they’re less likely to win any prizes. Listen, we’ll talk about Justin Cronin all day, and I could trot out 12 other novelists who’ve been writing zombie novels, but because they’re genre writers, they’re not going to get a f–king profile in The New York Times.

“We’re willing to talk about how one side is benefitting, how one side is taking these experiments, but this other side has been doing this for so long, and nobody wants to give them any love,” he continues. “I’m sorry, I don’t give a f–k what the f–k my side of the equation is doing. … It doesn’t stop us from getting MacArthurs. I want somebody who’s writing the Fantastic Four to get a MacArthur, get a Guggenheim.”

Let’s just pause there to agree: Yes! Where is the comic book writer’s MacArthur? Is there one lurking in Maybe some indie artist–a Dan Clowes or someone?

“Octavia Butler,” Chabon says.

“She got one,” Díaz agrees. “I’m telling you, I have friends who are straight-up genre writers, and they have never gotten a Guggenheim, and they’ve applied like 20 times in a row.”

(I didn’t actually know, until this moment, that the Guggenheim was something you applied for. I thought it appeared mysteriously–miraculously–like the MacArthur.)

“Someone like Grant Morrison,” Chabon offers. “His work has been such an inspiration to me, but I feel he’s totally unknown outside of comics.”

“Samuel Delany hasn’t been able to get a Guggenheim,” Díaz says. “Samuel Delany has applied over 20 times.”

“You’re kidding me?” Chabon says. “That’s so f—ed.”

“Think about that,” Díaz says. “Samuel R. Delany — one of the most important living writers.”

“You’ve gotta hope the people are going to die off,” Chabon says. “It’s like the legalization of marijuana. Eventually, the only people alive will be people who grew up smoking marijuana.”

“I hope so,” Díaz replies. “But I see this new generation repeating the fallacy of the old one. … I don’t see people [writing] genre being given the awards that I’m given if I do genre shit. That’s the change I want to see.”

This is one of the reasons I’m glad something like Kickstarter exists. It’s not perfect–far from it–but at least it’s a stab at an alternative form of artistic validation. (Cf. this old post.) We need more of them–more engines of recognition that fuse moral and artistic seriousness with real money. (That’s how people know you mean business!)

Alternatively, we could just figure out how to get Tim Carmody a spot on the MacArthur Foundation’s super secret selection committee…