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

The Kirby Cosmos

Apropos of nothing: I love the Celestials. (And these renderings of them in particular.)


A whole magazine of this, please

Alan Jacobs points to a book review where the (atheist) philosopher Thomas Nagel discusses a book by the (Christian) philosopher Alvin Plantinga and along the way demonstrates the highest level of intellectual engagement—of good faith. As Alan puts it:

Having confessed that he “cannot imagine believing what [Plantinga] believes,” Nagel nevertheless must acknowledge that Plantinga is doing excellent philosophical work and that his arguments cannot be easily dismissed. Moreover, Nagel clearly relishes simply being exposed to ways of thinking so alien to his own — he obviously finds it refreshing.

I’d read a whole magazine of this: people truly grappling with the very best representative of some philosophy, some belief, utterly opposite their own. Or even orthogonal to their own. At any weird angle to their own, really.

It makes me think of the Long Now debate format, which I’ve described before:

Take two debaters, Alice and Bob. Alice goes first, presenting her argument. Then Bob stands up, and before he can present his counter-argument, he has to summarize Alice’s argument to her satisfaction. So it’s basically an exercise in empathy and good faith. If Alice agrees that he’s got it right, then Bob proceeds with his argument—and when he’s done, Alice has to recapitulate it to his satisfaction.

Seriously, imagine this magazine. (And when I say “magazine” I obviously mean “website.”) It would be so different from anything that’s out there today. It wouldn’t be people trying to convince you of things. (This is the usual mode of, say, The New York Review of Books—although props to them for publishing Nagel on Plantinga.) Nor would it be people ironically infiltrating different belief systems. (This is the mode of a lot of narrative journalism today, and it’s super entertaining! You know: “I spent six weeks hanging out with these crazy people and here’s what I saw.”) It would be… brains at work. Call it The Grappler. An engine of empathy. I don’t know. It would probably have a readership of 300 people but maybe that’s okay.


‘By far the most nervous cast member. Ever.’

Super charming interview with Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader:

It’s funny I was telling a friend, who actually interned at SNL a few years ago, that I was doing this interview and she told me about how you’re the only cast member who would walk around the hall before sketches, rehearsing lines in character. Do you still do that?

Yeah. Yeah, I have zero confidence in myself to just bring it in the moment. I just have to read the lines. Every sketch you’ve seen me in I’ve probably read the lines to myself out loud maybe 50 times. And I’m reading my lines out loud to myself, leading up to going out there. And some people… like Kristen Wiig would just walk out there and just do it. I am not a very good cold reader. I think I’m probably dyslexic in some ways. I will get thrown. So I have to know it.

Your friend’s 100% right. I pace around and have my head down in a script. And sometimes I have this weird tic where I kind of throw my arms down to get tension out of my body. I do this violent arm twitch thing that makes everyone kind of concerned. Jenna, our stage manager, has been working on the show for around 20 years and she’s told me, “I’ve never seen a cast member get more nervous than you.” She’s like, “You’re by far the most nervous cast member. Ever.” [laughs] But yeah, she started I think with Ferrell and them, and she was like, “God you’re the most nervous, nervous person.”


The sea

An eloquent post from Frank Chimero.

(And the fact that I like it so much is somehow related to this thought-bomb fascination of mine, I just know it—I can’t yet figure out how…)



M. John Harrison continues to think out loud in paragraphs. Maybe it’s overreaching (or underreaching?) to say this is a new format but regardless, I find myself enthralled. This latest graf is such a winner, and this one on science fiction’s secret nightmare has been bouncing around inside my brain since I read it earlier this month.

Update: Here’s another blog-graf, kinda. Whatever it is, it’s lovely.


The hedcut algorithm

Super interesting thread on using Mathematica to approximate Wall Street Journal-style hedcut portraits. Okay that probably doesn’t make any sense. Just click through; you’ll understand. It’s fun to watch them work through the problem.


Eat Retreat

I know there are some food folks out there in the Snarkmatrix, so I want to make sure you know about Eat Retreat, an event happening near San Francisco in late October with the enviable tagline: “Summer camp meets the farmers market.” My girlfriend Kathryn is one of the co-founders as well as this year’s organizer, and I have just been super impressed with the way it’s been coming together (across the kitchen table). Honestly I sort of wish I could attend. I’m not sure they’d accept me though.


The student

Anisse Gross had a long, thoughtful conversation with Francis Ford Coppola. Two parts stuck out at me. The first comes here—after he’s had a huge success with The Godfather and its sequel, then gone hugely into debt with One from the Heart, then spent a decade (!) paying off that debt, and then finally:

Rumpus: When you returned, you developed a new set of rules for your filmmaking process – that they be based on your own original screenplays, involve a personal component, and be self-financed. How did you arrive at this set of rules and what have been its challenges and rewards?

Coppola: I wanted a clean slate so I decided to embark on a series of “student films” for myself to begin anew. I thought, “How do you be like a student?” Easy, you have no money. If you have no money to pay for everything, that’s when things get interesting. The films I make now have to be inexpensive enough that I can finance them myself. This was how I made a new beginning for myself. There’s a scene in a Kurosawa movie where they get this guy, and they practically kill him, and he’s in a box. He just has this knife, and these leaves are blowing, and he throws the knife and tries to get the knife to go through a leaf, and that’s how he builds himself up. I had to do that: be broken in a box and have a second life. To do that I needed to be a student. I thought I should try to make movies with nothing. No money, just whatever I have. […]

The second part comes here, at the very end:

Rumpus: Are you afraid of dying?

Coppola: I have no fear of death whatsoever. I used to do a little experiment for the fun of it in my elevator here, when I go down to the first floor. I can control the elevator so when I go in, I shut out the lights and I’m in total darkness. I think, when I get to the first floor that I’m going to be dead. As I go down, I think, I had such an interesting life, I got to be a movie director, have a wife and children, had so much fun with them, got to be in the wine business, go through everything, and as I’m lost in all these interesting thoughts, the door opens on the first floor and I’m not dead. I walk out.

Sometimes I’ll do something similar with crosswalks. As I cross, I match my pace to the orange numbers counting down and I pretend that when they reach zero, when I reach the curb, I’ll die. I think this version might be even more potent than Coppola’s because you’re walking, not waiting—you move forward to confront the idea. But any sort of exercise like this can be really healthy and helpful, I think. It’s amazing how much you can realize about your own life, about what you care about and what you don’t, in 10 or 15 seconds.

There’s lots more in the interview. Well worth a read this weekend.


Digging in the crates, Cinefex edition

I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild this week and absolutely loved it. It’s easily the best movie I’ve seen all year, maybe in many years. I mean: definitely weird! Definitely a little “huh?” in parts! But certainly no more so than The Dark Knight Rises, and if we’re willing to suspend disbelief for Christopher Nolan, then certainly we can extend that suspension to this handcrafted gem. I highly, highly recommend it. And I went in knowing almost nothing about the plot, so I’ll pass along almost nothing here.

I’ll post instead about this bit, which is entirely behind the scenes, and entirely delightful. From an interview with the movie’s director and special effects coordinator:

[Director Benh] Zeitlin mentioned Cinefex when we spoke to him. Can you talk about the magazine’s influence on your work?

[Special effects coordinator Ray] Tintori: I have this collection of Cinefex magazines that are all out of print, and they’re from the 80s to the early 90s. It’s completely my secret weapon. They’re magazines I had when I was a little kid that I would obsessively look over before I could even read. I would obsessively look at these pictures and think, this was a still from a film and this was the crazy contraption they had to build in order to pull off that image. But as I got older and learned how to read, the actual articles themselves are just incredibly dense, they go through every single shot in a film like Ghostbusters, or like Indiana Jones 2, Tron… every single effects film that came out in the 80s. There is an incredibly detailed, meticulous, clinical description of how they pulled off that shot, and almost as importantly, everything they did that didn’t work.

Back in those days, every effects shot was like a puzzle. You really needed to figure out how to do it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ll just use this plugin, we’ll use this render farm.” You had to start from scratch every time. They were constantly trying to outdo each other. So every time we approached a shot in this film, it was like, let’s just scour through this stack of Cinefex and just see how they approached similar things. There are techniques we used in Beasts that were taken from so many different kinds of films. Like, there’s this one scene where there’s a very low-hanging sun in the back, and I got that from the sequel to Space Odyssey. They described that they had made a painted backdrop, cut a hole in it, and put a light source behind it, and that was a sunlight source.

I’m not going to link back to the source interview, because it contains spoiler-esque pictures of the movie’s monsters. You can obviously find it easily with Google if you really want to, but since I had such a wonderful time seeing this gem of a movie—this crazy contraption made from old Cinefex spreads—without any preconceptions at all, I’ll encourage you to do the same.


The new comics page

This isn’t brand new, but worth reading if you’re into comics, web comics, and what either or both might become: Warren Ellis muses on an emerging aspect ratio for webcomics—one perhaps reminiscent of those weird old newspaper adventure strips.

I was in a diner the other day and picked up a printed newspaper. To be precise, I picked up the comics section. The thought that occurred to me was: Now this, here, is a fully dead format. But what fun, while it lived! The comics page! Shouldn’t there be some new-school version of this? Some webcomic aggregator that pulls a bunch of the best together and lays them out in a great big liquid wall to fit phones and tablets and big broad monitors alike? And pays a bit back to each creator?

It’s fun and strange to remember that drawing a syndicated newspaper comic strip used to be—no kidding—a path to riches. I mean, if you got your drawings in front of the right people at Universal Press Syndicate, and they liked it, and the salespeople pitched your strip and a bunch of papers picked it up… you had it made! I mean sure, you then had to draw a comic every day for the rest of your life. But even so. I drew a few editorial cartoons for MSU’s student paper, and I will admit to dreaming the dream of daily comics, and of syndication. I thought, very briefly, that there might be no life better than the life of, say, the guy who made Get Fuzzy.

Anyway: Why isn’t this a thing? Is it in fact a thing and I just haven’t seen it yet?