Archive for January, 2008
Funniest thing ever, five minutes ago: Patton Oswalt doing his riff on KFC Famous Bowls.
Funniest thing ever, now: Patton Oswalt writing about actually eating a KFC Famous Bowl for the first time.
(From Marc Andreessen’s blog, of all places. Weird!)
Here’s a quirky, innovative piece from Current UK. I just spent five minutes trying to describe it, but kept deleting what I wrote because it didn’t make any sense. You’ll see what I mean. Odd, simple, recursive, riveting.
Philip Pullman used to write in a shed in his backyard. Roald Dahl did, too. But here is my new favorite story of a writer and his lair, from Witold Rybczynski’s heart-bendingly good book The Most Beautiful House in the World:
George Bernard Shaw was largely indifferent to his physical surroundings — his house at Ayot Saint Lawrence, where he lived during the last forty-four years of his long life, was a nondescript Victorian rectory. But Shaw too was a builder, and the writing room that he erected in his garden was a Shavian combination of simplicity, convenience, and novelty.
He called it “the Shelter,” but it was really a shed, only eight feet square. It contained the essentials of the writer’s trade — a plank desk, en electric lamp, a wicker chair, a bookcase, and a wastepaper basket. Beside the desk was a shelf for his Remington portable — like [Mark Twain], Shaw was an early amateur of the typewriter. There was also a telephone (modified to refuse incoming calls), a thermometer, and an alarm clock (to remind him when it was time for lunch).
Inside the door was a mat where the fastidious writer wiped his shoes. The shed was austere — a vegetarian’s workplace, one might say; the pine boards and framing were painted white on the inside and left to weather on the exterior. The door, which was placed in the center of the wall, included a glass pane and had a fixed window on each side; a small window on the rear wall opened for ventilation.
The Shelter incorporated an unusual technical feature. Shaw wrote in the morning, and it was to warm the unheated interior that he had located almost all of the glazed openings on one side. To increase the effectiveness of these windows, he devised a curious solution: instead of resting on a foundation, the floor was supported on a central steel pipe, which permitted the entire room to be manually turned, like a revolving Victorian bookstand. This way, Shaw could benefit from the morning sun at different times of year. According to his secretary, however, the hut was never rotated; once it was loaded with furniture and books, it was probably too heavy to move.
I love the one-way telephone.
And seriously, this book was terrific — not just quirky housing anecdotes (though there are plenty of those), but deep, accessible thoughts on what houses can and do mean to us.
“Astroturfing is a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior.”
For example, say you founded a non-profit dedicated to vetting charity organizations and grading them on their effectiveness. Your org is attracting some high-profile attention, but you’re hankering for more. So you create accounts on a few well-trafficked websites. First, you pose as a naïf, adrift in a galaxy of charities, desperately seeking guidance. Then, under different accounts, you guide your little sockpuppet and any other interested parties right to your org. Step three, profit. Right?
Right, unless you attempt your ruse at the wrong site, where the users are savvy enough to see right through your act and call you on the mat. Now, your follies are on Digg and everywhere for all the world to see, and no amount of groveling will make amends. For shame.
I have to deal with minor astroturfing all the time on vita.mn (and pretty ridiculous astroturfing occasionally), and it’s always a forehead-slapper. It’s generally easy to spot, no matter how clever the offending party seems to think s/he is, and it cultivates a heaping mess of ill will. If you ever have the urge to misrepresent yourself online in a manner you think will advantage your company, don’t do it. You will be found out, and it will be very unpleasant. Your exploits may even be exposed in New York Magazine. Just remember this mantra — “Astroturfing makes an ass out of — never mind, just don’t do it.
Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson on Obama and Iowa:
Obama’s been drawing record crowds from San Francisco to Des Moines — but there was always the question of whether he could produce a similar effect among real live voters.
He did so in a way that no one predicted. 57 percent of the caucus goers tonight had never caucused before. Most impressive: As many people under thirty showed up as senior citizens.
That’s fucking nuts is what that is. That’s the Rock the Vote political wet dream that never ever comes true… actually coming true.
What this portends for Obama as a national candidate is something truly special. He’s not only proven that he can draw the support of independents and open-minded Republicans. He’s the one guy who can make the Democratic pie higher, bringing new, unlikely voters into the fold. If he could replicate this kind of support among young people in a general election, it’s game over.
Chris Anderson does a back-of-the-envelope carbon footprint calculation for an issue of Wired vs. the same issue online. The results surprised me. (Of course, it being Chris Anderson, it’s certainly not as back-of-the-envelope as it comes off; he drops some mad knowledge in the commentz.)
- I got a Chumby. I was vaguely embarrassed about this for a while, but wow, my family and I had a lot of fun with it over the holidays. Well, to be specific: We didn’t actually do anything with it. The Chumby kinda just sat around. But it kept cycling through Flickr photos, through weather reports from San Francisco (a riot in Michigan, let me tell you) — just this little pulsing presence in the bookcase.
- I read a Neil Gaiman short story on the plane home about a gargoyle. I love the idea of the gargoyle: small, ugly, but a potent protector.
- I know this is old news, but how great is it that long-lived background processes on UNIX servers are called daemons?
- There was a lot of whimsy and wizardry floating around in the early days of computing.
- Which brings us to this: Mike Kuniavsky’s speech about ubiquitous, embedded computing, and the notion that maybe a good metaphor for our interactions with this stuff will be… magic. (You can get the gist just by flipping through the PDF if you don’t have time for the MP3.) I like it.
So I spent New Year’s Eve in a Boeing 767, cruising from Chicago to San Francisco. It was good timing: As midnight swept across the continent, time zone by time zone, we’d get passed — and then race ahead again! Frankly I wish the in-flight movie had been something a bit more festive and thematically appropriate than “Rush Hour 3.”
Update: But of course the downside is that I missed this!