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 Sterile Perfection of Legoland

Not to profile myself or anything, but I am loving Lev Grossman’s nerd-culture blog at Case in point: His short post on the pleasing purity of Legoland. Love this bit:

Ultimately, the world of Lego is a world of total order. No, not a world. Worlds are messy and unpredictable. A SYSTEM. A system so organized, so well-thought out, so simple-yet-ingenious, so meticulous, so well-made, that, by comparison, real life is a lumbering, smelly Brobdingnagian doofus. Finally, a totalitarian society that works! The acrylonitrile butadiene styrene Lego elements (Master Builders call Lego pieces “elements”) last forever. Pieces, I mean, elements made in 1963 still connect with those made today.

Also — mini-spoiler-alert, maybe? — he has a report on the first six minutes of The Dark Knight Returns.


Selling Out, Quantified

You know I love pop-culture equations! Here’s one from the Washington Post, by way of The Moby Quotient. Excellent visual treatment.

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Get Moving

When Danger Mouse gets stuck on some musical problem, he upends a sandglass. I know many writers who use a similar trick, often with an egg-timer or other kitchen-countdown implement. Very, very useful.

(Awesome slideshow via Rex.)


'I Have Plenty to Say About Him'

Major upside to the impending release of The Golden Compass: lots of interviews with Philip Pullman making the rounds! This one is the best I’ve seen: an extended e-mail interview that goes deep, deeeep into his theology. And of course there’s this bit:

[Interviewer]: Your trilogy does an amazing job of interpreting certain aspects of the Old Testament (and the legends surrounding it) quite literally (e.g. Enoch), and it touches on Church history too — but if memory serves, there is no mention of Jesus as a character in this cosmology. To some readers, this has been a curious gap. Where does he fit into your mythos? Given that the depiction of everything that came before and after Jesus — God, Enoch, the Church, etc. — is pretty negative, would Jesus himself have been “bad” somehow? Or, as a “good” person, did he not fit in?

[Pullman]: His omission from HDM was deliberate; I’m going to get around to Jesus in the next book. I have plenty to say about him.


The next book, recall, is going to be called “The Book of Dust,” and Pullman has been working on it for many years now.


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.



Dollywood, Dollygood

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.


'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:

  1. This is what the future looks like.
  2. One of the reason the future looks so good is that it gets to stand next to all the old buildings.

Making Mario

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

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