Archive for December, 2009
Tony Judt, author of the magisterial book Postwar—really, one of my absolute favorites—has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it’s progressed to the point where he can’t move his arms or legs.
In the NYRB, he writes:
During the day I can at least request a scratch, an adjustment, a drink, or simply a gratuitous re-placement of my limbs—since enforced stillness for hours on end is not only physically uncomfortable but psychologically close to intolerable. It is not as though you lose the desire to stretch, to bend, to stand or lie or run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over you there is nothing—nothing—that you can do except seek some tiny substitute or else find a way to suppress the thought and the accompanying muscle memory.
But then comes the night.
I am a sucker for a sun-dappled sidewalk, and it occurs to me that dappling is actually a pretty specific effect. You’ve seen images like this before: here’s a good look (with bonus Impressionist rendition). Overlapping tree-branches become cameras; how weird and how cool.
This one requires patience. First, start up the music:
While it runs through its creepy overture, drag the sound down on the video below. Then, when the music hits 0:32 exactly, press play:
You can stop the video around 0:30… or let it run until you get bored.
I had completely forgotten about this cartoon, but I totally loved it, and I’m pretty sure I owned many of the corresponding toys. It was a sort of techno-magical, post-apocalyptic King Arthur. After the suns went out (?) construction workers, scientists, and news anchors (!) all became weird warriors. Holograms were the big sell; the action figures came with holograms!
Here’s a link to the music; its native video accompaniment might actually be more edifying than the Knights of the Magical Light.
I’m launching a program today that I’m really excited about. The idea is this: I wrote and printed Annabel Scheme; it’s out there in the world, people are reading it, and I’m getting good feedback. Cool. But I have to say, what I really lust after—maybe irrationally—is like… Annabel Scheme fan-fic. Images of Scheme herself, or Sebastian Dexter or Jack Zapp, by some kid at deviantART. Tracks from the Beekeeper’s server. Remixes, reimaginings, and reboots!
I’m under no illusions; this is asking a lot. People want to appropriate and remix the pantheon: Batman, He-Man, Sherlock Holmes. Who cares about some new story that’s only existed for two months and only a few thousand people even know about?
Economists talk about using well-designed incentives to correct market distortions or to encourage a certain kind of development. But to my knowledge—please tell me if I’m wrong—nobody’s ever released a piece of work under a Creative Commons license with much of an incentive attached. Usually it’s just: “Hey, do something… with this… if you want?”
So, I’m experimenting with a Remix Fund for Annabel Scheme.
There’s an important dimension to the fund that I really like, but am having a hard time explaining clearly: You can pitch an idea that you yourself want to do, of course, e.g. you’re an artist and you want to draw a portrait of Annabel Scheme and you’d like $400 for your efforts. But you can also pitch an idea that you’d like someone else to do. It could be a friend of yours, of course; it could also be someone whose work you admire, e.g. another writer you dig, a webcomic creator you love.
This is a bit tricky, obviously, because, like, don’t the creator get any say in the matter? Of course they do: if an idea pitched on someone else’s behalf gets the green light, I’ll email them and explain what’s up. I actually have a theory that this could be a powerful message to get: “Hey, out there in the world there is someone who’s a big fan of yours, and they set it up so that you could do this mini-project and get paid for it.” I don’t know; maybe it will be too out-of-the-blue. “Wait, what? Who are you? Annabel WHAT?” But I’m hopeful, and I want to try it out, because that’s the only way we’ll know for sure.
Anyway, this is fair game for Snarkmarket readers, obviously, so check it out.
In 2010, every media budget should have a line item for remixes!
Darkness at night is such an obvious and easily-neglected thing, probably because it’s no longer a problem. Our cities, even our houses, are made safe and accessible by electric light (and before that, gas lamps, candles, etc.).
But remember your experience of night as a child, the confounding absoluteness of darkness, and you begin to understand a fraction of what night was like prior to modern conveniences. The conquering of night might be the greatest event that wasn’t one in human history, certainly of the past 200 years — right up there with the massive declines in infant/mother death in childbirth or the emergence of professional sports.
Geoff Managh at BLDGBLOG lays it down with a tidy piece of paleoblogging by proxy:
Writing about the human experience of night before electricity, A. Roger Ekirch points out that almost all internal architectural environments took on a murky, otherworldy lack of detail after the sun had gone down. It was not uncommon to find oneself in a room that was both spatially unfamiliar and even possibly dangerous; to avoid damage to physical property as well as personal injury to oneself, several easy techniques of architectural self-location would be required.
Citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book Émile, Ekirch suggests that echolocation was one of the best methods: a portable, sonic tool for finding your way through unfamiliar towns or buildings. And it could all be as simple as clapping. From Émile: “You will perceive by the resonance of the place whether the area is large or small, whether you are in the middle or in a corner.” You could then move about that space with a knowledge, however vague, of your surroundings, avoiding the painful edge where space gives way to object. And if you get lost, you can simply clap again.
Managh also thrills at Ekirch’s other discovery: “Entire, community-wide children’s games were also devised so that everyone growing up in a village could become intimately familiar with the local landscape.” Not only would you know your house in the dark, you would learn to know the architecture of your entire town. Managh asks:
But this idea, so incredibly basic, that children’s games could actually function as pedagogic tools—immersive geographic lessons—so that kids might learn how to prepare for the coming night, is an amazing one, and I have to wonder what games today might serve a similar function. Earthquake-preparedness drills?
Having spent most of the morning singing songs like “clean it up, clean it up, pick up the trash now” and “It’s more fun to share, it’s more fun to share,” I don’t see kids’ games as pedagogic tools as such a leap, although the collectivity of the game and the bleakness of the intent give me a chill. “If the French come to try to burn this village at night, the children must know exactly where they are before they begin to run.” Cold-blooded! They probably all learned songs about how kitchen knives and pitchforks could be used against an enemy, too. “Every tool can kill, every tool can kill…”
It’s probably also a good idea, if you’ve got kids, to teach them a thing or two about their neighborhoods. Not to get all grumpy and old, but in the absence of the random-packs-of-children-roaming-the-town-alone parenting style I grew up with, kids are probably not picking up the landmarks by osmosis. What will they do when the zombies attack? Use GPS? Call a cab?
Economics has, during its entire history, from the mid-18th century until today, been dominated by only five textbooks. David Warsh lists them and explains:
[F]or the entire history of modern economics, all 250 years of it, from its beginnings during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century to the present day, the discipline has been dominated by five canonical textbooks — and only five (though, of course, each had many imitators). Those who found compelling the authority of these texts became economists. Those who didn’t became something else — sociologists, political theorists, anthropologists, psychologists, historians, lawyers, reformers, businessmen, religious leaders.
Isn’t that an interesting way of framing it? “Those who found compelling the authority of these texts became economists.” Wonderful phrasing; neat idea, too. The five texts were written by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall… and Paul Samuelson, who died recently, and who is the subject of Warsh’s piece.
The piece also includes this fun anecdote, new to me. Samuelson’s epochal text opens with an epigram from Willard Gibbs, a scientist and mathematician: “Mathematics is a language.” The story behind those words, from Muriel Rukeyser:
[Gibbs] would come to meetings — these faculty gatherings so full of campus politics, scarcely veiled maneuvers, and academic obstacle races — and leave without a word, staying politely enough, but never speaking. Just this once he spoke. It was during a long and tiring debate on elective courses, on whether there should be more or less English, more or less classics, more or less mathematics. And suddenly everything he had been doing stood up — and the past behind him, his [philologist] father’s life, and behind that, the long effort and voyage that had been made in many lifetimes — and he stood up, looking down on the upturned faces, astonished to see the silent man talk at last, and he said, with emphasis, once and for all: “Mathematics is a language.”
“And suddenly everything he had been doing stood up.” Jeez. More wonderful language. What an image. “Everything he had been doing stood up.”
What to call the ten years we’re now closing down? I am unmoved by “the Naughts” and even by “the Naughties,” which is clever but (it seems to me) wishful. I mean, come on. They weren’t that naughty.
Over in the St. Petersburg Times, Michael Kruse suggests the Search Decade. It might not grab you immediately, but go read his pitch. Even if you walk away still calling it the Naughties, it’ll help you appreciate just how long a decade is:
Back in May 2000, which wasn’t that long ago, which was forever ago, the New Yorker’s Michael Specter wrote a piece partly about Google in which he felt it necessary to define search engines: “programs that hunt for Web pages in response to specific words or phrases.”
I like the style and pacing of Kruse’s piece. I also like, of course, the fact that he uses EPIC 2014 as a hook!
I do not like dreamy fashion spreads in magazines even a little bit, but I liked this thing—what to call it?—a lot. It has a soundtrack and fun, motion-graphics-y transitions between photos. Both elements are deployed thoughtfully; if the music was wrong, or the transitions too slow, the whole thing would collapse. As it is, I think it’s moody and really, uh, clickable.
I want to view content like this on my unicorn!
Jonathan Harris, in one of his thoughtful photos-of-the-day:
I would like it if somebody worth emulating would give me a list of the 100 books that I need to read, in order to push and poke at my stiff sense of self until I am larger and more dynamic, expanded like a rubber balloon in 100 directions by 100 well-expressed world views.
With such a list, I would have no problem with a computerless cabin-bound existence, and I would never venture back to the swampland of the Smith Family bookstore, nor any other wetland like it, trudging through printed sprawl to look for pearls.
Two things. One: the photo-of-the-day, with a good caption, is really ideally internet-sized, isn’t it? Two: I admire the elegance of his articulation, but I disagree with Jonathan Harris’s destination. We’ve been stuck in cabins with too-short lists for too long! The printed sprawl is where the action is. Dive in, I say.