These rocks can be found on the floor of the playa with long trails behind them. Somehow these rocks slide across the playa, cutting a furrow in the sediment as they move. Some of these rocks weigh several hundred pounds. That makes the question: “How do they move?” a very challenging one.
What we are used to as college basketball is really basketball as a college major, or in many cases instead of college. Not basketball as an activity. The version at Caltech puts stuff like health, education, and love of the game first. I can’t speak for basketball, but I think a lot of colleges would be better off with that kind of athletic presence on campus. Maybe all the professional development of basketball players should take place somewhere else — somewhere that is not supposed to be about academics.
Yes, I know it’s a year late, but a funny thing happened to me on the way to compiling a list of the best films of 2006. I checked into the hospital in late June 2006 and didn’t get out again until spring of 2007. For a long while, I just didn’t feel like watching movies. Then something revolved within me, and I was engaged in life again.
I’ve never met Ebert, but his love of movies resounds so emphatically from his writing that if he didn’t feel like watching them, he must have been closer than I thought to shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil. It’s nice to hear his enthusiasm again. (via crazymonk)
Poignant, amusing, disturbing, hunger-inducing? I don’t know what to make of this video, but I can’t stop watching it. If you only watch one chocolate bunny melting video this year, make it this one. (via clusterflock)
For example, those participants shown the doctored photograph of the protest in Rome (top right), in which figures placed in the foreground give the impression of violence, rated the event as being significantly more violent and negative than it actually was. In their comments, they also provided false details, such as conflicts, damages, injuries and casualties that did not appear in the photos and were not documented at the event.
As an alternative to the various bestseller lists, the National Book Critics Circle is creating a monthly Best Recommended List of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as voted on by NBCC members. The first list is already up for your perusal and holiday gift-buying idea generation.
These are images more invasive than any Victoria’s Secret spread, because they don’t inspire lust. This is a pornography of regret, and the longer you stare, the more seductive it becomes. These sixty pages are a self-pity trap; any sane lonely man would do well to avoid them.
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen several people mention the 50 Years of Helvetica exhibit at the MoMA along with some variation of “Woo! I might need to take a trip to New York to go see this!” You should know that this exhibit takes up just a small corner of the Architecture and Design Gallery on the 3rd floor…it’s essentially a case and a handful of posters and other specimens. If you’re in the museum already, definitely check it out, but you’ll be disappointed if you make a special expensive trip just to see the Helvetica stuff.
Update: Or was it? James Clerk Maxwell took this color photo of a purty ribbon in 1861. Maxwell also, and so but by the way, linked electromagnetism and light in a seminal paper from that same year, work that Albert Einstein called “the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton”. (thx, chris)
Been on a bit of a Guitar Hero kick lately…I just played it for the first time recently so of course I’m looking around the web for advice, hacks, YouTube videos, etc. Nothing like a little web research to reinforce how little you know.
Anyhoo, I found this video of a 8-yo kid shredding it up on Guitar Hero 2…he missed only three notes on an expert level song and wasn’t even looking at the screen some of the time. Little blighter. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go have a few alcoholic drinks, smoke some cigarettes, rent a car, and join the Army…let’s see him do all that! (P.S. I wrote a hit play!)
He explained that no matter how large you make the playing field, if you walk long enough you will run into a wall, and that will make you turn around, which makes the camera turn around and runs the risk of making the player lost. With a sphere, Mario can run all he wants without falling or hitting a wall… a useful concept for getting players totally absorbed in the moment. Koizumi added that the best thing about spherical worlds is the “unity of surface,” and the “connectedness.” 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.
They also talk about the Galaxy’s two-player (well, 1.5-player really) feature, which is a really nice way of getting a second passive player involved in what is essentially a one-player game. (via snarkmarket)
With the blessing of the main abbot, Shi Yong Xin, Guariglia has earned the full collaboration of the monks to create an astonishing, empathic record of the Shaolin art forms and the individuals who consider themselves the keepers of these traditions. It is the first time the monks have allowed such extensive documentation of these masters and their centuries-old art forms-from Buddhist mudras to classical kung fu-in their original setting, a 1,500-year-old Buddhist temple.
Photos and video here. Watching the videos, especially the one featuring Tong Jian Quan, I was reminded of hip hop dancing (Michael Jackson in particular) in a way that watching kung-fu and other martial arts in Hollywood movies does not.
Christopher Hitchens has written a pair of articles for Vanity Fair on the growing self-improvement industry for men, offering himself up as a guinea pig for our education and entertainment. In the second article, he gets new teeth (before photo, after photo…only 6 hours between the two) and gets his nethers waxed…the male version of the Brazilian. The description of his “sack, back, and crack” epilation is too good not to share at length:
Here’s what happens. You have to spread your knees as far apart as they will go, while keeping your feet together. In this “wide stance” position, which is disconcertingly like waiting to have your Pampers changed, you are painted with hot wax, to which strips are successively attached and then torn away. Not once, but many, many times. I had no idea it would be so excruciating. The combined effect was like being tortured for information that you do not possess, with intervals for a (incidentally very costly) sandpaper handjob. The thing is that, in order to rip, you have to grip. A point of leverage is required: a place that can be firmly gripped and pulled while the skin is tautened. Ms. Turlington doesn’t have this problem. The businesslike Senhora Padilha daubed away, took a purchase on the only available handhold, and then wrenched and wrenched again. The impression of being a huge baby was enhanced by the blizzards of talcum powder that followed each searing application. I swear that several times she soothingly said that I was being a brave little boy… Meanwhile, everything in the general area was fighting to retract itself inside my body.
There are very serious social problems to be addressed, but the poor, pathetic, liberals simply haven’t a clue. Conservatives, on the other, are political sophisticated and hold clear visions of what they want. It is too bad that what they want does not include caring about the poor and the otherwise afflicted, or dealing with our natural environment. Politics in the USA is no longer Elephants and Donkeys; it is now conservative Pigs and liberal Bonobos. The pigs are smart but only care about what’s in their trough. The Bonobos are polymorphous perverse and great lovers, but will be extinct in short order.
NYC restaurant advice from a huge douchebag Don Juan about where to wine her, dine her, and then complete the rhyming trifecta later that evening.
I have given much thought to this question of romantic restaurants. In each case you have to study the girl and find the right restaurant for her. One If by Land, Two If by Sea. Forget it. A joke. The Terrace. Never. Never. The minute you walk in she knows what you have in mind. You might as well write her a note ‘Tonight I expect to do it.’ It’s too obvious.
As the war progressed, the Überschwerer Kampfschreitpanzers became less of an asset and more of a liability. Their height made it nearly impossible to hide them, and at least one was totally destroyed and another wrecked beyond repair by a concentrated rocket attack from the so-called “Stalin’s Organs.” Several others were damaged from artillery barrages, Russian dive bombers claimed another, and if reports are correct, one of the last Fortresses was taken by several P-38 Lightning pilots, who brought it down with wing-mounted rockets.
Three years ago, David Chang was an obscure cook with a failing Manhattan noodle bar. Now he is being hailed as the most innovative and exciting chef America has seen in decades.
Decades? Please. I’m not backing down from my effusive review of Ssam Bar (Ssam Bar is one of my favorite restaurants of all time), but this decades business is bollocks. Just let the man (and his collaborators) cook and open more yummy restaurants.
Guitar Hero offers a connection to all this, but departs from it in an obvious way: You’re not actually playing the guitar. No matter how good you may get at Guitar Hero, if you decide to take up the real instrument at some point, you’ll be starting from scratch.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a rock star and there’s no way I can pick up a guitar right now and play it, but the pretend version of the whole rock n’ roll thing that Guitar Hero provides is pretty powerful, at least for this impressionable newbie. Playing Guitar Hero and believing you’re a rock star might be like eating apple pie on the internet, but if you don’t know the difference in the first place, does it matter?
The NY Times has released their list of the 100 Notable Books of 2007. Because of the amount of online reading I do and Ollie, my book-reading rate has declined dramatically…I only read two of the books on this list and one of those was Harry Potter 7.
If this belated revelation changes nothing from one perspective — Oswald still did it — it simultaneously changes everything, if only because it disrupts the state of mind of everyone who has ever been transfixed by the Zapruder film. The film, we realize, does not depict an assassination about to commence. It shows one that had already started.
Scene: Two women on a smoke break outside in the rain, a white woman dressed all in black and a black woman dressed in all white. The woman in all black holds a giant golf umbrella with alternating black and white panels.
Excuse for missing it: Three stories up and babysitting.
First, our brains consist of material particles. Second, these particles, in certain arrangements, produce subjective thoughts and feelings. Third, physical properties alone cannot account for subjectivity. (How could the ineffable experience of tasting a strawberry ever arise from the equations of physics?) Now, Nagel reasoned, the properties of a complex system like the brain don’t just pop into existence from nowhere; they must derive from the properties of that system’s ultimate constituents. Those ultimate constituents must therefore have subjective features themselves — features that, in the right combinations, add up to our inner thoughts and feelings. But the electrons, protons and neutrons making up our brains are no different from those making up the rest of the world. So the entire universe must consist of little bits of consciousness.
Dude! Note: the timestamp on this post is exactly 4:20 pm ET. You know what to do.
Eye-Fi is a wireless memory card for digital cameras. Once you get it set up, you take a photo with your camera and it’s automatically uploaded to your computer and to Flickr (or another photo sharing site of your choosing). The first thing you notice about the Eye-Fi is that it looks just like an ordinary 2-gig SD card…so tiny that when you use it for the first time, you almost can’t help but examine your camera from all angles to make certain that there are no wires involved. It’s magic.
But can an enchanted memory card make you a better photographer? That is, does it make you want to use your camera more and take better pictures? I’ve been testing an Eye-Fi for the past week, courtesy of my friends at Photojojo (where every order comes with a Blow Pop!). The setup and usage were pretty easy. Not having to fuss with an uploading cord was nice. I didn’t like the requirement of setting up each wireless connection you want the card to use; it should find open wireless access points when it can. But after a week of using the card, I finally figured out the optimal way to use the Eye-Fi:
2. Set the Eye-Fi to upload automatically to your Flickr account with the privacy set so that only you can see it.
3. Use Flickr’s online organization tools to publish, group, tag, or order prints of the keepers and discard/ignore the rest.
Instant online-only workflow…no intermediate “download then find the best ones then upload” steps required, everything happens right in Flickr. The lack of editing tools (brightness, levels, etc.) on Flickr might be a deal breaker for some, but for the rest, it certainly makes it easier to take a lot of photographs and get them up where family and friends can see them.
I hoped that people who loved the blog would spill over to people who read Dilbert, and make my flagship product stronger. Instead, I found that if I wrote nine highly popular posts, and one that a reader disagreed with, the reaction was inevitably “I can never read Dilbert again because of what you wrote in that one post.” Every blog post reduced my income, even if 90% of the readers loved it. And a startling number of readers couldn’t tell when I was serious or kidding, so most of the negative reactions were based on misperceptions.
In college, take a year off and drive across the country, and camp along the way. Do it with good friends that are smart; not dumbasses that just want to get high. Bring some books. Bring some audio books if you can’t read.
There is still some faint resistance to the notion that a kicker could ever really do anything great. Brett Favre can throw 10 more game-ending interceptions and fans will still cherish his moments of glory. Reggie Bush may fumble away a championship and still end up being known for the best things he ever does. Even offensive linemen whose names no one remembers are permitted to end their days basking in the reflected glory of having been on the field. Kickers alone are required to make their own cases.
Maybe soccer goalies can identify with NFL kickers?
What’s sort of great about it is that it will happen to everybody if you live long enough. If you were born in 2000, it happens instantaneously. The people who were born at the end of the century have to take care of themselves.
Your Daily Awesome, one of my favorite new blogs of the past few months, has ceased publication. Alas. But I can identify with the reason behind the shuttering:
I am a writer first and an artist second (or vice versa, it’s hard to keep track): Blogging is not my main gig, and for the past several months, I’ve been unable to devote myself to my real work so that I can noodle around on the internet every night, hunting for something appropriately awesome to blog. Those (substantial) daily chunks of time need to be applied to other projects that are more significant to me, creatively and professionally.
Tokyo has more restaurants - at least 160,000 that could be classified as proper “restaurants” - than almost any other urban centre. Paris, by comparison, has little more than 20,000 and New York about 23,000.
There’s a lot of handwringing about Tokyo restaurants getting so many stars, but to look at it another way, Paris has 8 times fewer restaurants and has more 3 stars than Tokyo. Not bad.
At this Wall Street old boys’ club, don’t be surprised if you run into one of her “ex-boyfriends” who works in “finance.” Be prepared for his “power play,” when he sends over a pitcher of “the freshest-tasting sangria this side of Barcelona,” prompting her to visit his table for “ten minutes” and to come back “laughing” and suddenly critical of your “cravat.” The room is “snug,” to say the least, and it’s not the best place to say, full voice, “What the fuck were you thinking dating him?” But don’t overlook the “best paella in town” and a din “so loud” you won’t notice that neither of you is saying anything.
Basically, as the leaf grows it is constrained to a 2-d surface, but the cells of some leaves reproduce fast enough to require more surface area than a pi-r-squared plane surface can provide. Its only recourse is to buckle out-of-plane, giving the wrinkles. Since the exuberant growth continues as the leaf grows outward, the buckling process repeats and you get the multi-scale (ripples on ripples on ripples) shape that you see in kale and daffodils.
Video of Errol Morris talking with Philip Gourevitch about Abu Ghraib and Standard Operating Procedure at the 2007 New Yorker Festival. This was painful to watch at times — Morris speaks very deliberately — but worth leaving the audio on in the background. They showed a clip of the movie at the festival but it got cut from the video…rights issues, I imagine.
Japanese researchers have developed “melody roads” that play tunes when you drive on them. You could use this technique for traffic calming…i.e. the road plays music only when you’re driving the speed limit and hope that there’s no second-order melody that plays at two times the speed limit to entice highway hackers to speed for forbidden tunes.
If one had gone to talk to a publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It’s too complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all and presenting that as an imaginary future, they’d not only show you the door, they’d probably call security.
The best thing about the HP Scitex TJ8300/TJ8500 series printer is not that it makes 5.4 ft. by 12.1 ft. prints or can output 4,304 sq. ft. per hour or costs who knows how many 10000s of dollars. No, the striking feature of this printer is that they made it look just like a normal desktop-sized HP inkjet printer, despite the fact that the damn thing is as big as a hippopotamus.
Ceci n’est pas une big fucking printer! Interesting extra tidbit: after the TJ8300s retire from active printing, they’re put out to stud to sire the next generation of HP desktop inkjets.
From an article on human memory that includes profiles of a woman who remembers everything she’s done in her life since age 11 and a man who remembers almost nothing after 1960:
The metaphors we most often use to describe memory — the photograph, the tape recorder, the mirror, the hard drive — all suggest mechanical accuracy, as if the mind were some sort of meticulous transcriber of our experiences. And for a long time it was a commonly held view that our brains function as perfect recorders-that a lifetime of memories are socked away somewhere in the cerebral attic, and if they can’t be found it isn’t because they’ve disappeared, but only because we’ve lost access to them.
That’s not the case, of course. A better metaphor for human memory might be that of an almost-saturated sponge trying to sop up spilled water on a counter. The sponge gets some of the water up but also loses some of its already-captured liquid and you just sort of smear the watery mess all over until the counter is completely wet but appears less waterlogged than it was. At least, that’s how *my* memory works.
It is The Daily Prophet which emerges in this film as a secondary character, performing interstitial cameos made all the more exhilarating because the camera sweeps in and out, ricocheting off the page, magnifying and dramatizing a typographic vocabulary that combines a slightly mottled, letterpress-like display face with great portions of illegible calligraphy.
That’s CEO-speak for “yay, we can charge you for buying this gadget again and again”. That emphasis makes it seem like the Kindle is less of a “read any text you want on the go” device and more of an interface for purchasing Amazon’s e-books, e-magazines, and blogs (yes, they’re charging for blogs somehow…). E-ink is a genuine innovation but until someone without some skin in the media game takes a good crack at it, e-book readers are destined to be buying machines and not reading machines.
Update: Here’s a list of all the blogs that Amazon is selling for reading on the Kindle. Subscriptions are $0.99-$1.99. No kottke.org (thanks, Amazon!!). Are the bloggers getting their cut of the subscription fees? Can I put kottke.org on there for free…or at least at cost? I suspect bloggers are getting a cut, with the rest taken by Amazon for profit and the conversion of the blogs’ text into whatever goofy format the Kindle uses. Would have been a lot cooler to put an RSS reader on there and just let people read whatever blogs they wanted.
From the past weekend’s box office: the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men took in $3.1 million on 148 screens while Tom Cruise’s bombtacular Lions for Lambs took in $2.9 million on 2216 screens. Ouch.
The new photos are enlarged details from much wider crowd shots; they were discovered by a Civil War hobbyist earlier this year in the vast trove of Library of Congress photographs digitized since 2000, and provided to USA Today. They show a figure believed to be Lincoln, white-gloved and in his trademark stovepipe hat, in a military procession.
If you believe that software made for a mass market audience that costs $129 (or even $259), does just about anything you want the instant you specify, and runs on mass-produced hardware that fits comfortably in a small backpack will always perform flawlessly, you’re deluded. If you believe any advertising or marketing to the contrary, you’re twice deluded, once by yourself and once by someone else. You want 100% reliability for cheap? Buy a calculator. But don’t expect anything more than arithmetic.
The children started making these laptops last year and dubbed themselves “the laptop club.” This was truly an innovation of kid culture without adult coaching. The children were in second and third grade last year, and are continuing to create and play with new designs this year. […] All of the kids played with their laptops so much that many of the laptops have been worn out or lost.
The desires and preoccupations of the kids come through quite clearly in these drawings. Reminds me of the letters to Santa we wrote in grade school.
In fact, Mr. President, your initial pro-war arguments offer the best path toward understanding why the conflict has been such a disaster for U.S. interests and global security.
Following your lead, Iraq hawks argued that, in a post-9/11 world, we needed to take out rogue regimes lest they give nuclear or biological weapons to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. But each time the United States tries to do so and fails to restore order, it incurs a high — albeit unseen — opportunity cost in the future. Falling short makes it harder to take out, threaten or pressure a dangerous regime next time around.
Foreign governments, of course, drew the obvious lesson from our debacle — and from our choice of target. The United States invaded hapless Iraq, not nuclear-armed North Korea. To the real rogues, the fall of Baghdad was proof positive that it’s more important than ever to acquire nuclear weapons — and if the last superpower is bogged down in Iraq while its foes slink toward getting the bomb, so much the better. Iran, among others, has taken this lesson to heart. The ironic legacy of the war to end all proliferation will be more proliferation.
The planned invasion will strike another blow at the structure of international law and treaties that has been laboriously constructed over the years, in an effort to reduce the use of violence in the world, which has had such horrifying consequences. Apart from other consequences, an invasion is likely to encourage other countries to develop WMD, including a successor Iraqi government, and to lower the barriers against resort to force by others to achieve their objectives, including Russia, India, and China.
In a stairway leading down to the subway platform of the N/Q Canal St. stop, a pair of doors face each other on a landing. About every three days for more than a year, I’ve seen graffiti painted on both doors. Each time, the day after the graffiti appears, so does a fresh coat of cream-colored paint. By my count, those doors are covered in at least 100 coats of paint and must be more than an inch thicker than they were last year.
An Apple Lisa commercial featuring Kevin Costner. While you digest the awesomeness of that, it’s interesting to note how consistent Apple has been under Steve Jobs in their message and approach…the emphasis on non-traditional business uses of computers in the Lisa ad and the whole iLife philosophy go together quite well. (via the house next door)
The official typeface for our license plates is now called FE-Mittelschrift, with FE meaning it is Fälschungs-Erschwert, i.e. difficult to forge. Apparently car thieves, terrorists and notorious law-breakers had been exploiting DIN’s geometric construction principle and turning E into F or 3 into 8 etc by simply using a bit of black tape or white paint.
Here are all the alphanumeric characters:
Note the tamper-resistant differences between the 6 (no notch) and 9 (notched), the E & F, the I & 1, the O & zero, the P & R, and so on.
New York magazine has compiled a great collection of vintage NYC videos featuring the likes of Grandmaster Flash, the construction of the Empire State Building, Andy Warhol, and Union Square, circa 1896.
It’s impossible to watch “Beowulf” without sensing that the “actors” are being pushed around by invisible forces, not living and breathing on their own.
I noticed the same thing when I saw the trailer in the theater a few weeks ago. I’m stunned that the filmmakers thought it was OK that the whole thing seems soulless and constantly reminds people that, hey, this is fake, you’re watching a movie! It’s a real testament to Pixar that they’re able to stop short of the uncanny valley (they’re still obviously cartoons) and still imbue their characters with life and emotion (see Anton Ego’s revelation in Ratatouille).
Thunder! Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Con Edison is cutting their last direct current line in NYC, ending 125 years of continuous service that started when Thomas Edison set up shop in 1882 and signaling the final triumph of alternating current in the AC/DC wars. (Lesson: Nikola Tesla always wins in the end.)
The last snip of Con Ed’s direct current system will take place at 10 East 40th Street, near the Mid-Manhattan Library. That building, like the thousands of other direct current users that have been transitioned over the last several years, now has a converter installed on the premises that can take alternating electricity from the Con Ed power grid and adapt it on premises. Until now, Con Edison had been converting alternating to direct current for the customers who needed it — old buildings on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side that used direct current for their elevators for example.
Mailer: I said that the need of the magazine reader for a remark he could repeat at dinner was best satisfied by writers with names like Gore Vidal.
Flanner: All those writers called Gore Vidal.
Vidal: I know. There are thousands of them, yeah.
Mailer: There are two or three.
Cavett: Who are some of the others?
Mailer [with a dark look]: I don’t know.
Cavett: Who wants to host the rest of this show?
Mailer, years later, told me that it was at this point that “in the face of the Cavett wit and Flanner’s deft interruption” — adored by the audience — and in consideration of his alcohol content, he realized that he was not being skillful at mounting a sustained argument.
FEBL media usually means nothing and is patently false but incredibly seductive. It is the perfect scaffold to hang propaganda and acts like a bit-borne, pernicious narcotic. Although films like Zeitgeist are mildly entertaining, due to their unbelievable popularity (more than 5 Million people have watched it on YouTube), they must be taken seriously. I suspect they might actually be dangerous, and therefore, as someone who does not believe in censorship it is important to make fun of Zeitgeist as the tired piece of po-faced, visually illiterate, polemically challenged, pornographic bullshit that it is.
During the most recent visit from Ofsted, the inspector witnessed a maths lesson where the children were motivated to learn about subtraction by pretending that it is a magic formula created by Harry Potter. Pupils were not allowed to answer questions without first saying a spell — “numerus subtracticus”, which they devised themselves.
Blendie is a blender built by Kelly Dobson that only works when you growl at it.
People induce the blender to spin by sounding the sounds of its motor in action. A person may growl low pitch blender-like sounds to get it to spin slow (Blendie pitch and power matches the person) and the person can growl blender-style at higher pitches to speed up Blendie. The experience for the participant is to speak the language of the machine and thus to more deeply understand and connect with the machine.
Limit-telephotography involves photographing landscapes that cannot be seen with the unaided eye. The technique employs high powered telescopes whose focal lengths range between 1300mm and 7000mm. At this level of magnification, hidden aspects of the landscape become apparent.
Must we hear about it every time this Crack Addict attempts to rehabilitate himself with some new — and typically half-witted — political grandstanding? I’d be grateful if you would take me off your mailing list. I cannot think of anything the useless Marion Barry could do that would interest me in the slightest, up to and including overdose. Sincerely, Tim Page.
Anthony Bourdain on the best method for finding good food in any city: provoke the nerds.
Take the city you want to go to and just google up some restaurant names that serve the dish you’re after. Then got to chowhound or another foodie site, and rather than asking about restaurants, you put up an enthusiastic post talking about how you just had the best whatever you’re looking for at one of these restaurants.
At that point, […] the nerdfury will begin. Posters will show up from nowhere to shower you with disdain, tell you how that place used to be good but has now totally sold out and — most important to your quest — will tell you where you would have gone if you were not some sort of mouth breathing water buffalo.
I wouldn’t have guessed that there’s actually an upside to Internet Jackass Syndrome. (via clusterflock)
He worked the fields and milked cows for white families while believing he had no rights as a man. Peonage is a system where one is bound to service for payment of a debt. It was an illegal system that flourished in the rural South after slavery was abolished. Mr. Cain was born into this system believing that he was bound to these people that held him and his relatives captive. Being unable to read and write also stifled any opportunity that may have presented itself to the Mr. Cain because he was unable to decipher anything.
There’s a video of a recent Nightline appearance the family made on YouTube. Nightline says that it was not able to confirm the family’s story independently but notes that the US Justice Department prosecuted people for keeping slaves well into the 20th century. (via cynical-c)
He could spot one of his own pigeons in a whirling flock a block or two distant, his nephew said. Studying a prospective purchase, he examined its eyes with a jeweler’s loupe, looking for the telltale subtleties of color and form that are believed to indicate prowess.
“He paid thousands of dollars for birds, but he would never sell a bird,” Peter Viola said in a telephone interview on Monday. “If you wanted one, and you came to the house and he liked you, he would give you the bird, with two stipulations: that you don’t sell it and you don’t kill it.”
This post about the carbon footprint of wine contains an interesting map at the bottom. It’s a map of the US with a line splitting the country in two. West of the line, it is more carbon efficient to drink Napa wine while to the east of the line it is more carbon efficient to drink French Bordeaux. You can almost see the coastline of the eastern and Gulf states struggling westward against the trucking route from California. The Vinicultural Divide?
An appreciation of the Real Super Mario Bros 2. The game was released in Japan in 1986 but was considered too difficult/weird for US gamers and a different Mario 2 (based on a Japanese game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic) was released to the US.
In most games, you trust that the designer is guiding you, through the usual signposts and landmarks, in the direction that you ought to go. In the Real Super Mario Bros. 2, you have no such faith. Here, Miyamoto is not God but the devil. Maybe he really was depressed while making it — I kept wanting to ask him, Why have you forsaken me? The online reviewer who sizes up the game as “a giant puzzle and practical joke” isn’t far off.
The whole upshot is that RSMB2 is now available on the Wii Virtual Console as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. And for the record, I loved SMB2.
…a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.
For some people, this means that numbers are associated with colors…5 is blue, 2 is red, etc. In a recent experiment, a person with synesthesia was found to experience colors associated with numbers even though they were colorblind…colors that person had never actually seen with his eyes.
That may seem strange, but what it really means is that the subject had problems with his retina that left him able to distinguish only an extremely narrow range of wavelengths when looking at most images in the world — his brain was fine, but his eyes weren’t quite up to the job. But when he saw certain numbers, he experienced colors that he otherwise never saw.
19.20.21 (19 cities in the world with 20 million people in the 21st century) is a nice site for an effort to undertake “a five-year study that will encompass all aspects of the phenomenon of supercities” but the real attraction are the maps of the world’s largest cities through time (Menu/10 Largest Cities). In 1000, the largest city in the world was Cordova, Spain and by 1500, 4 of the top 10 were in China and one was in Nepal. (via snarkmarket)
The setup was an art project on Tobias’s part, they practiced together for some time to make it work. There were a lot of little jokes in fake Tobias’s talk for people who knew what was going on. Tobias was in the audience, actually answered a question for fake-Tobias during his talk.
The set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Executive function includes basic functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory, the type used to remember a house number while walking from the car to a party.
Interestingly, physical and not mental exercise is the best way to improve your brain’s executive function. (via joel)
The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products — the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.
Cassidy’s theories are insubstantial, his evidence inconclusive, his conclusions unlikely, his Gaelic atrocious and even factitious, and his scholarship little better than speculation. In short, his book is preposterous.
Advertising will get more and more targeted until it disappears, because perfectly targeted advertising is just information. There’s little point in saying something until the time is right, then you just have to say it once, and the idea takes over and does all the work.
That sounds overly optimistic to me but there’s definitely something of substance there.
When Italian police recently arrested Salvatore Lo Piccolo, the suspected head of the Sicilian Mafia, they also found a list of ten commandments that served as a guide for the behavior of Mafia members.
1. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
2. Never look at the wives of friends.
3. Never be seen with cops.
4. Don’t go to pubs and clubs.
5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty - even if your wife’s about to give birth.
6. Appointments must absolutely be respected.
7. Wives must be treated with respect.
8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
10. People who can’t be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn’t hold to moral values.
I smell a future bestseller: Leadership Secrets of the Cosa Nostra…it’s the new 48 Laws of Power.
Is it possible that future generations will regard our present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way as we now view Nero’s entertainments or Mengele’s experiments? My own initial reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme — and yet the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I haven’t succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient.
A taxonomy of NYC restaurant tables, from the lowly Sucker Tables to the Closer Tables. Two examples of the Closer Table are the cheeky Table Sex at Milk & Honey and the even cheekier Table 69 at Alto.
First, the Death Star is so friggin’ huge that it doesn’t fit on even the largest chart I’ve made. And that’s even for the low-ball estimate of the size, which brings me to my second point: No one can agree just how big the Death Stars actually were, so there’s no point in doing their sizes.
Every home cook who cares about getting better and every soul who is in or about to attend culinary school. I want all the young cooks who never went to culinary school and have always been nagged by the not-knowing-what-they-missed (probably not as much as they imagine) to buy it. I want every chef to buy it for his or her line cooks. And maybe most of all, beginners — I can’t imagine a better starting reference for cooking terms to go along with other food books. I want every professional cook to buy it for the people who cook for them when they’re not at work. In short I want everyone who cares about cooking to buy this book.
Everything is faster. Zero drag is optimal. For a while, new applicants would jokingly be asked about their “drag coefficient.” Since the office is a full hour’s commute from San Francisco, an apartment in the city was a full unit of drag. A spouse? Drag coefficient of one. Kids? A half point per. Then they recognized that such talk, even in jest, could be taken as discriminatory in a hiring situation.
Epinions is still going and is now owned by eBay. (via sippey, who is somewhat of an internet time capsule himself)
If a plane is traveling at takeoff speed on a conveyor belt, and that conveyor belt is matching the speed in reverse, can the plane take off? “We put the plane on a quarter-mile conveyor belt and tested it out,” says Savage about the experiment using a pilot and his Ultralight plane. “I won’t tell you what the outcome was, but the pilot and his entire flight club got it wrong.”
Awesome. If the laws of physics hold, that plane should take off. (thx, matt)
We will require, from a larger and larger percentage of our work force, the ability to engage in relatively complicated analytical and cognitive tasks. So it’s not that we’re going to need more geniuses, but the 50th percentile is going to have to be better educated than they are now. We’re going to have to graduate more people from high school who’ve done advanced math, is a very simple way of putting it.
Other recent and not-so-recent writings and talks by Gladwell on working, education, and genius include:
Overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
A profile isn’t a test, where you pass if you get most of the answers right. It’s a portrait, and all the details have to cohere in some way if the image is to be helpful. In the mid-nineties, the British Home Office analyzed a hundred and eighty-four crimes, to see how many times profiles led to the arrest of a criminal. The profile worked in five of those cases. That’s just 2.7 per cent, which makes sense if you consider the position of the detective on the receiving end of a profiler’s list of conjectures.
The identity of anyone with information on Gladwell’s new book will be treated with the greatest of discretion…hit me on my burner.
There is a new deal for the alpha male on Wall Street. He can make his millions, and he can still strut and preen and feel important. What he can’t do is sexualize his financial clout. In the late 1980s it was fairly routine for men on Wall Street trading floors to order up strippers; when a prominent bond salesman was fellated in a conference room just off the trading floor his colleagues were more amused than shocked. Not long ago a pair of Morgan Stanley employees was fired for merely attending a strip club in their off hours.
Has anyone else noticed that Mail.app and IMAP aren’t perfect playmates in Leopard? The unread counts in my folders don’t update until I click on them (and my inbox unread count never updates), which is suboptimal and time consuming in the extreme.
In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?
Google recently announced that a bunch of companies (aka the Open Handset Alliance) were getting together to make cell phones that run on an open platform called Android. That was a couple of days ago so maybe someone else has already made the imperfect comparison between this and Mac vs. PC circa 1984, but if not:
Posting will be pretty light (or nonexistent) today. We had a grueling day of travel yesterday that’s not over just yet (I’m going back out to JFK this morning to retrieve some tardy baggage). A quick thanks to Joel for minding the site while I was gone.
Interesting piece in Mother Jones about the new rate hikes for periodicals passed this year. According to the article, weekly publications like The Nation and The National Review will face up to $500,000 a year in additional delivery costs. This is the sort of small, seemingly-trivial change that makes this past week’s discussions here at kottke.org so urgent: when you look at how rapidly—and sometimes silently—things are changing, you really do need to step back sometimes and ask, “Have we really thought this through? Are we acting, and doing so urgently enough?” How significant is this rate hike? Try this:
Since the 1970s, all classes of mail have been required to cover the costs associated with their delivery, what’s called attributable cost. But periodicals, as a class, get favorable treatment: They don’t pay overhead, meaning that they don’t foot the bill for the Postal Service’s infrastructure, employees, and so on.
That’s a tradition that goes back to the origins of the nation. The founding fathers saw the press as the lifeblood of democracy—only informed voters could compose a true democracy, they believed—and thus created a postal system that gave favorable rates to small periodicals. (George Washington actually supported mailing newspapers for free.) For 200 years, small periodicals and journals of opinion were given special treatment.
OK, Kottke faithful: this is it—the last of my interviews on The State We’re In. I know you’ve all come to know and love Jason’s short, link-y goodness (so do I) & am happy to say it returns tomorrow. Meantime, I can’t think of a better way to cap off this week’s talks than with Steven Berlin Johnson. Author of two of my favorite books, Emergence and The Ghost Map, Steven also heads up one of the more interesting social networking sites, outside.in. He spent some time this week exchanging ideas on the Web’s various geographies and the different ways we navigate both the physical and mental worlds we inhabit.
JT: Outside.in is a great idea—I love the kind of Jane Jacobs/crowded sidewalks thing you’re striving for—or seem to be: how is it working out? Have you been surprised by anything? Any new ideas?
SBJ: It has been really fun and rewarding. I had seriously resisted the idea of starting a new company, because my lifestyle as a writer for the past five or six years had been pretty amazing. But it’s just such an interesting problem that we’re trying to solve at outside.in, and it’s such an interesting time to be trying to solve it—so I ultimately couldn’t help myself. In a way there are a lot of parallels to the timing of the first two web sites that I helped build—trying to build an online magazine (FEED) in 1995, or a community-authored news site (Plastic) in 2000 is quite a bit like trying to build out the geographic web in 2007.
One of the big surprises has to do with the long tail of geography. When we originally conceived of the site, we thought the tail was all about neighborhoods—that was the geographic niche that big media had traditionally ignored in favor of cities and greater metro areas. But it turns out the tail is even longer: a huge amount of our traffic goes to our place pages, where you can see all the discussion from around the web about a specific public school, or park, or restaurant, or real estate development. So we’ve started adjusting the UI for the site to reflect that focus; the new city front door has a “Places” tab that lets you see the most talked about places in your community.
But I think the most surprising thing about it is how hard it is to convince people of the general importance of geo-tagging pages. I’ve just written a little essay—called “The Pothole Paradox“—to coincide with the new version we’re launching this week, and one of the things that I talk about is the fact that the Web itself was made possible by standardizing the virtual location of pages. And in many ways, what made blogging so valuable was that you had standardized time stamps for pages as well. So we had virtual space and actual time, but not actual space. But it turns out there are amazing things that can be done if the geographic location of pages (the location they’re describing, not where their servers are located) is machine-readable. Flickr showed this with photos, of course, and we’re trying to make the case for it as well.
JT: One thing I wonder about is whether or not you could (or, even so, should) consider other kinds of geographies: of the mind, for instance. I live in Minneapolis, but as a writer I spend a week to a month every year in New York. My daily paper—to the extent that this notion even makes sense anymore: but until very recently it was an actual paper—is The New York Times. Isn’t one of the great things about the Web—and specifically things like blogs and social networking sites—that we have the tools to build dense communities that map to more than just the physical geography of our lives? And these geographies interact in interesting ways (consider the richness of Thoreau’s remark: “I have traveled a great deal in Concord.”): are we bound to live in a world in which these maps—and their attendant communities—are disconnected?
SBJ: I think you’re absolutely right. And yet the fact that the Web creates a new kind of semantic or social geography untethered to physical space doesn’t mean that the old kind of geography disappears. 99% of the Web 2.0 companies that have launched over the past five years have been, in effect, pursuing those kinds of new associations that you describe, but there hasn’t been nearly as much focus on the possibility of using the Web to enhance physical geography. So we’re trying to correct that imbalance. If everyone was doing hyperlocal, and no one was doing, say, social networks, I’d probably start a social network site.
What we’re really grappling with at outside.in is the fact that we built the site around a very specific ideal-case geography: Brooklyn. In other words, it’s a site that works really, really well in communities where you find high population density, many local bloggers, intense gentrification and development debates, and clearly-defined neighborhoods. But it turns out the rest of the country (much less the world) doesn’t always look like Brooklyn. So that’s one of the things we’ve been tweaking in terms of the way that the database is structured.
JT: In an interview with Jason B. Jones in Pop Matters last year, the two of you talked quite a bit about the Long Zoom as a kind of guiding principle of your books, specifically in my two favorites: Emergence and The Ghost Map. In the latter, the zoom between the physical and mental map of the world—the long zoom from our senses and surroundings to our greater ideas about those things—zoomed up quite naturally into error & disaster. Then John Snow recalibrated things, created a new, different path along which to zoom, and virtually eliminated cholera from London. You and Jason referenced the great Eames documentary, Powers of Ten, in this regard: but isn’t this metaphor broken—or at least inexact? We’re not really just going up and down—but more like traversing an n-dimensional graph. Outside.in gives us a way of moving in certain directions—but I wonder whether you have any thoughts on how the blogosphere, the ways in which it creates large numbers of short paths, helps us navigate the world? Or does it, as the complainers say, just muck it up?
SBJ: One of the great things that Jane Jacobs wrote about in Life and Death of the Great American Cities is the design principle of favoring short blocks over longer ones—the crooked streets of the Village versus the big avenues of Chelsea—because short blocks diversify the flow of pedestrian traffic. In an avenue system, everyone feeds onto the big streets, and you have insanely overcrowded streets and then side streets that are deserted (which leads to storefront real estate that only the big chains can afford, and real estate that no one wants because there’s not enough foot traffic). In a short block model, the streets tend to gravitate towards that middle zone where there are always some people on them, but not too many.
I’ve always thought that the blogosphere can be thought of as a kind of small blocks model for the Web, whereas the original portal idea was much more of a big avenues model. Yes, there are some increasing returns effects that lead to some A-list bloggers having millions of visitors, and yes, there is a long tail of bloggers who have almost no traffic. But the healthiest part of the curve is what Dave Sifry once called “the big butt”—the middle zone between the head and tail of the Power Law distribution, all those sites with 1000 to 100,000 readers. That’s the part of the blogosphere that I think is really cause for celebration, because something like that just didn’t exist before on that scale. And as Yochai—who of course is very smart about all this—points out: those mid-list sites also communicate up the chain to the A-listers, who can broadcast out the interesting developments in the mid-list so that those stories enter a broader public dialogue. Maybe the new slogan is, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 Digg links.”
Your “n-dimensional graph” is exactly right, and it’s exactly that shape that makes the “death of public space” or “Daily Me” argument so silly. There are plenty things to complain about in the kinds of communication that the Internet fosters (think about the spam alone), but the idea that this environment is somehow encouraging too much filtering, too much echo-chamber insularity, is a fundamental misreading of the medium.
JT: Finally, I want to stump for story for a minute—but then raise some questions about their role & interaction with the Web and blogs and the ubiquity/inexpense of media produciton. A part of me thinks that every additional word I say about something I publish diminishes it in some way: I write a book with (very nearly) exactly the right combination and number of words to mean what I say. And then several other parts of me chime in to say, “But you know that’s not the whole story!” or “Don’t you wish you could say ‘X’ now—after it’s too late to include it in the book?” You point, for instance, to Ralph Frerichs’ John Snow site at the end of The Ghost Map and mention Tufte’s work and there are a host of reproductions of the map available (including this one, in Flash). I also think that, by now, we all know that authorial intention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—and yet, it’s not trivial. Given that just about everything is connected to everything else now, what is the role of the discrete story?
SBJ: I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to the book form, particularly the writing process. The book is fundamentally a one-to-one form, in the sense that 99% of the time, you’re talking directly as a single author to a single reader, and the whole interaction is about this very intimate exchange (though of course it’s a very one-way exchange). No doubt you end up having many different readers if your books are successful, but the actual experience of the form keeps returning to that direct encounter between two individual minds. I love that about books, and I’m probably happiest and most at home when I’m in the middle of writing one. And so that part of the constraint I really embrace; I almost never discuss the book I’m currently writing on my blog, for instance.
But at the same time, I love all these new forms that are emerging where the relationships between authors and readers are far more complicated and multi-dimensional, which also causes the text itself to blur around the edges. When you look at something like TechMeme, it’s about as far as you can get from that one-to-one exchange. And that’s great. Or BoingBoing—I mean, those guys might have had only 25 phone calls, as Cory said, but there’s an incredible group jam going on there that’s entirely distinct from the much more private, interior space of book writing.
For me, the blog is where the edges of the book form blur, and blur in a really nice way—after the book comes out. I can’t imagine publishing a book now without having the blog to promote, respond, re-evaluate, extend, connect—even retract! It’s not quite as impossible to imagine as writing without Google (which seems like writing a book on a typewriter to me now) but it’s close.
Jane Ciabattari is a fiction writer, book critic and widely published journalist. She’s on the board of the National Book Critics Circle (for which she is a co-blogger on their Critical Mass blog) and is Vice President of the Overseas Press Club. Since it seems to me (a blogger, author, and NBCC member critic) that one of the great opportunities for blogs is to provide a wider audience—and greater number of voices—for criticism, I was thrilled that she took time out of a busy schedule to talk about blogs and the future of criticism.
I wrap up my week here at kottke.org tomorrow with an interview with Steven Berlin Johnson.
JT: What was the motivation behind starting the NBCC Critical Mass blog? It’s one of my essential reads. I also wonder: is there any irony in its excellence, given the rancor against bloggers that has come from newspaper critics this summer? Or some of the return-fire directed by bloggers?
JC: The idea of developing a literary blog for the National Book Critics Circle seemed natural. When it was launched in April of 2006, it provided an instant online community for those of us who are NBCC members and who are passionate about books and book criticism and book culture. It created a quick way for us to communicate with members, to address issues of note to us all, and to provide an ongoing “snapshot” of contemporary book culture by including interviews and lists of what authors and member critics in various parts of the world are reading.
It’s also allowed us to launch a number of ongoing series: In Retrospect, in which today’s critics re-visit all the finalists and winners of NBCC awards from the past 33 years; “Thinking About New Orleans,” about New Orleans writers displaced or disoriented by Katrina and its aftermath; and, of course, the NBCC Campaign to Save Book Reviewing.
The irony as I see it is that a number of newspaper reporters and literary bloggers implied that the NBCC was against blogging and in favor of print book reviews. This is an unfortunate and reductive—and unnecessarily divisive—perspective that I don’t share. The NBCC is in favor of a diversity of book reviewing forms. The content is not an issue. The forms merge, morph, transform. One evaporates here, another pops up there. This is part of a vibrant book culture that continues despite the shifts in book reviewing in recent months and years.
JT: I wonder what the role blogs play best in the book world? There’s a big difference between book discussion or gossip and book criticism—blogs do a great job of the former, but not such a great one at the latter: does it matter? Of course, a lot of lit-bloggers have gotten the attention of the newspapers and become critics in their own right: Mark Sarvas and Maud Newton come to mind. Is this going to be a kind of permanent divide—blogs for book culture and newspapers (or their Web sites) for substantive reviews?
JC: I think of this as a moment of pause, a transition, an exciting time in which to watch what the reaction will be to the changes in the newspaper world and elsewhere—as well as the growing familiarity with the gatekeepers of the blogosphere. I think we’re beginning to see some creative solutions evolve.
The NBCC membership includes not just print and broadcast reviewers, but literary bloggers like Mark Sarvas and Jessa Crispin and Lizzie Skurnick who are proprietors of literary websites. We have had two NBCC board members who have founded and hosted literary blogs that are now more than five years old and many literary bloggers are now reviewing for print publications or providing content for the online parts of newspaper book sections. The best of those, the Maud Newtons and Lizzie Skurnicks and others, are making that transition with no trouble.
I have written for The Guardian’s blog, and I read it regularly. The combination of the print edition of a newspaper’s book section and the expanded online editions, with blogs plus comments, additional reviews, seems like a natural thing and this format is building in this country—we now have multimedia book sections in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and others.
I would guess that within a few years the literary blogosphere will have been mostly digested by the websites of the larger newspapers, that the Hearsts and Murdochs and Newhouses of the world, who have the capital and the business savvy to figure out how to attract the most talented, will become the dominant forces online. Online readers are increasingly women, increasingly people over 40, and polls indicate that they will be most likely to trust the gatekeepers the know—i.e., newspapers with familiar names—to give them online news.
I have been listening to the dreams for broadband since before the dot.com collapse, and it is indeed exciting to have the speed and facility of highspeed Internet available for authors, critics, researchers, and students. But I am reminded by every passing thunderstorm and summer brownout or blackout that none of this works without a healthy electrical grid. And that some of the mountains and rural areas where I spend time, and some of the readers I know, people who want their children to be readers, are not able to afford or even obtain highspeed connections where they live: newspaper coverage of books is still very important to them.
We launched the NBCC Campaign to Save Book Reviewing in conjunction with the shift of the Los Angeles Times book review from a stand-alone section to a section combined with Opinion (and the shift of some content online) and the elimination of the book editor’s position at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the largest newspaper in the South and the literary home of many of the country’s great writers. There were lots of other newspapers going through transitions in books and arts coverage, too—as well as the fact that academic libraries began eliminating print versions of the literary quarterlies that are the lifeblood of American literary fiction and poetry in favor of electronic databases. It seemed a tipping point, and time for a conversation about the issue—one that we have been conducting both on the blog and through public panels.
What does the shrinking of print newspaper book coverage mean for authors? Novelist Lee Smith offered her perspective from North Carolina on the NBCC blog, noting that she was troubled when her latest book, On Agate Hill, came out last fall: “It was getting pretty good reviews, though fewer reviews. Then I got one really unfavorable review by an influential critic in a major city, which was reprinted in about 20 other newspapers that had cut back on their local coverage and were using syndicated book reviews. I was talking to my husband about all those bad reviews the book got, this was my own negative experience, my feeling about it, and he said, Wait a minute, it got ONE bad review, carried in 20 papers.”
Bottom line: It’s not great if newspapers are syndicating one review and spreading it around; it’s better if newspapers expand the number of books they review by doing it online. The small press books, the independent books, will always be in need of champions. At Critical Mass, I have started a series called Preview 2008, with a specific focus on small-press books that lack the promotional budgets of the larger publishers.
JT: Anyone who’s worked at a newspaper knows how discomfiting it can be to see all the books that go unreviewed—that’s something you don’t hear a lot about: questions about who gets reviewed, why, and so on. The world’s bloggers may not be the best critics (though many are wickedly smart): but from the writers’ and readers’ and publishers’ perpectives, wouldn’t we all be better off if publishers sent 100-200 galleys of every book to the 100-200 most-prominent bloggers in the circles of interest most likely to buy or enjoy a given book? It seems like there’s a lot of inefficiency in the marketplace—and a place for a burgeoning trend here, doesn’t it?
JC: As much as it makes sense to send galleys to prominent bloggers, I think you have to think first about readers; ultimately, the majority of online readers still go to newspaper websites for their information. The evolution of newspapers continues. Beginning in September, the Audit Bureau of Circulation will combine print and online circulation of newspapers, which I believe will show a better picture of what has been going on in the United States. In July, for instance, 59.6 million people visited newspaper websites, a 9 percent increase over the same period a year ago. Nearly eight in ten adults read a print or online newspaper each week. As I’ve noted, many of the best literary bloggers are writing for newspaper book review sections and online websites. Readers are also going to communities like Readerville.com, which is a terrific website for readers and writers. Internet space may be infinite, but readers are pressed for time: I suspect quality will out, online or off.
JT: Finally, I think one thing the blogosphere does extraordinarily well is broaden the base of discussion—while still preserving the idea of the cream rising to the top. It’s just that, on the Web, there are a lot more buckets. As critics and writers, should it matter to us that the “center doesn’t hold?” Is there really anything wrong with there being a large number of different centers—each connected to each, each permeable and in constant flux?
JC: I interviewed Yochai Benkler a number of years ago in a piece for New York Lawyer that predicted that he would be one of the attorneys under forty who would influence the 21st century. I am pleased to see he continues to break new ground, and I found his book fascinating. I see nothing wrong with a large number of different centers, interconnected, permeable, in constant flux: that is the nature of the Internet. Having reported from Cuba, where the flow of information is censored, and China, where the Internet is censored but only partially obstructed because of the various ways one can get around the firewalls, I would not want to see that constant flux impeded. But I also spend enough time in rural areas where broadband Internet connections are either unavailable or too expensive that I’m only too aware that printing is still an important technology—and that it’s important to maintain it for those who read newspaper book reviews, whether at home or in local libraries; whether from desire or necessity. To ignore the needs of this part of the American population would be to undermine our democratic roots—literacy is at the base of an educated citizenry.
That said, for me the ideal is a multi-media approach, with a maximum of choices. A world in which I can listen to public radio, read various newspapers online or in print, watch the BBC and Colbert and John Stewart, catch up with my favorite literary bloggers (chosen because I’ve come to know and love their sensibilities), and continue to have what the MacDowell Colony’s 100th anniversary slogan calls “the freedom to create.”
I’ve been working my way through these Folkways Podcasts for months and they’re fantastic: I figure with the new Todd Haynes Dylan flick making it’s way around in very slow release, you might even have a chance to catch up to the two Dylan-focused episodes by the time I’m Not Therehits your part of the world.
Attributor, a copyright monitoring service, launched today. It’s currently available only to enterprise subscribers, but they’ll be launching a service for small publishers and bloggers next year. Of special note is the (purported) use to which publishers want to put the service—link credits:
Attributor splits up the world between sites that exhibit extensive copying (more than half of an article, for instance, and just some copying. It shows which sites have linked back to the original source and which have not. “Often, that’s all they want—a link,” says Brock. Below is a typical dashboard view of what a customer would see. In this case, the content from People.com is being analyzed (based on its feed). Of the 265,000 matches, 103,000 don’t link back to People.com.)
I can’t think of anyone better suited to answering questions about the state of culture in the Age of the Blog than Cory Doctorow. Whether it’s running Boing Boing, writing (and giving away—while still profiting from—his novels and short-story collections), or speaking out for our electronic rights, Cory is a ubiquitous presence on every vector of this discussion. I caught up with him by phone at his London flat.
JT: Let’s talk about the ‘Pixel-Stained Technopeasantry’ discussion in the sci-fi community this summer. I thought it was sort of ironic that someone like Hendrix—a sci-fi writer— would resign over the use of technology—
CD: He didn’t resign: He just didn’t run again.
JT: —Or just didn’t run again. OK, so that was just his parting shot? There was another line he used, too—what was it? Webscabs. What’s the deal with giving away your stuff for free?
CD: There are three reasons why it makes sense to give away books online. The first is that publishing has always been in this kind of churn and flux—who gets published, how they get paid, what the economic structure is of the publishers, where the publishers are, all of that stuff has changed all of the time. And it’s just hubris that makes us think that this particular change—the computer change—is the one that’s going to destroy publishing and that it must be prevented at all costs. We’ll adapt. If we need to adapt, we’ll adapt. And today, the way that we adapt is by giving away e-books and selling p-books.
So that’s the economic reason. But then there is the artistic reason: we live in a century in which copying is only going to get easier. It’s the 21st century, there’s not going to be a year in which it’s harder to copy than this year; there’s not going to be a day in which it’s harder to copy than this day; from now on. Right? If copying gets harder, it’s because of a nuclear holocaust. There’s nothing else that’s going to make copying harder from now on. And so, if your business model and your aesthetic effect in your literature and your work is intended not to be copied, you’re fundamentally not making art for the 21st century. It might be quaint, it might be interesting, but it’s not particularly contemporary to produce art that demands these constraints from a bygone era. You might as well be writing 15-hour Ring Cycle knock-offs and hoping that they’ll be performed at the local opera. I mean, yes, there’s a tiny market for that, but it’s hardly what you’d call contemporary art.
So that’s the artistic reason. Finally, there’s the ethical reason. And the ethical reason is that the alternative is that we chide, criminalize, sue, damn our readers for doing what readers have always done, which is sharing books they love—only now they’re doing it electronically. You know, there’s no solution that arises from telling people to stop using computers in the way that computers were intended to be used. They’re copying machines. So telling the audience for art, telling 70 million American file-sharers that they’re all crooks, and none of them have the right to due process, none of them have the right to privacy, we need to wire-tap all of them, we need to shut down their network connections without notice in order to preserve the anti-copying business model: that’s a deeply unethical position. It puts us in a world in which we are criminalizing average people for participating in their culture.
JT: What was it that the philosopher J. L. Austin said? “Things are getting meta and meta all the time.” Almost of necessity, because if you don’t have meta-level discussions and filters (and we have MetaFilter), bloggers like kottke and boing boing—in academia I’m going to Arts & Letters Daily and Crooked Timber—you’d never be able to fire through all the cool things to which we now have access. By making use of a small number of editorial nodes, we can cover lot more of the network. But it’s more interesting than simple efficiencies, isn’t it? I interviewed Douglas Wolk earlier this week and he said something pretty profound: “Each blogger is a gravitational center, great or small, but there’s no sun they’re all orbiting around.” Yochai Benkler, too, with his idea of the bow-tie model, talks about how, because of shallow paths and the small world effects of the Internet, this idea that there are these multiple centers of gravity mean it’s not like there’s one giant “culture” that’s omnipresent, along which there’s this Power Law distribution that drowns everything out. Instead, there are tons of these smaller gravitational centers, each with their own orbits; each with their own authors, interests, inclinations to reach outward and bring other things in… it pretty well vanquishes certain notions of centrality, the cry that says, “Holy shit: I’m not in The New York Times! Nobody in our culture will ever find me!” That’s nonsense. You can have an audience of millions, maybe none of whom have ever read The New York Times.
CD: You just recapitulated in reverse the panic of Andrew Keen. What Andrew Keen has got his pants in such a ferocious knot about is that we are losing our “culture.” Basically, if you unpack his arguments they come down to this: He thinks The New York Times did a pretty good job of figuring out what was good and he doesn’t like the idea that they’re not the only way of doing it and that it’s getting harder to figure out who to listen to and media literacy is getting harder and that means bad stuff is going to become important and that wouldn’t have happened if only the wise, bearded, white-robed figures at The New York Times had been allowed to continue to dominate our culture. That’s really where he’s coming from at the end of the day.
JT: In fairness to the Times, they not only pay well, but they do a good job of reaching out—to their guest-bloggers, for instance. The Guardian does, too.
CD: Yes, they do and they do. But as a writer, actually having all these different venues in which my work can appear has actually turned out to be better and not worse. So for one thing, the free online distribution of my work has created new opportunities—it’s like dandelion seeds blowing around that find all the cracks in the sidewalk that I never would have been able to find just by walking around and planting them. One of my favorite reprints was one I sold to a magazine who’d found the text in the word-salad at the bottom of a spam e-mail. So even the spammers are helping me.
JT: That’s really funny. In another interview I did, the one with Ted Genoways, he said something that I hope a lot of people pick up on, because I think it’s incredibly important to this discussion. What Ted said was that, after doing their big South America in the 21st Century issue—for which they got a lot of good press: authors on NPR, segments on PBS—they got a small amount of traffic from mainstream media. But then Jason posted a small link and they got 25,000 visits that week from kottke.org.
CD: I think the most important thing about that anecdote isn’t the amount of influence that kottke.org wields, although that’s an interesting component of it, but how cheap it is to become kottke.org—to maintain Kottke Enterprises, Ltd. It’s so cheap it’s the rounding error in the coffee budget of the smallest department of one of the main publishing conglomerates. That’s all it costs Jason to run his website.
Boing Boing, and I’m not just talking cash costs—but also organizational costs, the Coasian costs, of doing this are so low. Boing Boing, for the first five years, we never had a physical meeting. We had never all been in the same room until we had been in business for five years. We had 25 phone calls in the entire history of the business.
So, a lot of bloggers can wield tremendous influence, and become disruptive forces in the media marketplace, very cheaply. If you have someone who’s enthusiastic and compelling and that person is very close to the purchase decision—you know, it probably drops off with the square of the distance, right? So you can have a person like Oprah, who’s so compelling that the fact that she’s extremely distant from a book she’s pitching is not wildly important, because she sends such a strong signal that even though it attenuates quickly that signal is still very strong. Who was the President who popularized the James Bond novels? Kennedy? He mentioned it and he turned James Bond into a phenomenon. The corollary of this is that a weak signal heard close in is also an extremely powerful way to sell books. So, we’ve historically relied on strong signals at great distances, but the other way to do this is weak signals close in. And we have new ways to get close: with things like Amazon links, the signals don’t have to be very strong at all.
This is also an essential component of the value of the free electronic copy. The microcosm for that is “here’s a free electronic copy… talk about it in IRC with two other people.” And that gets you the same thing. You don’t even have to send out a physical review copy & those people, if they like your book, will start sending the book to their friends.
JT: It all sounds good—but let me go on record as, in the broadest range of things, a middling copyright defender. But I loved Tim Wu’s piece in Slate. Did you read that? On how selective enforcement of copyright shows just how broken copyright law is? But—let’s get to the complications of sending out free work. If somebody started passing off your work as their own, you would not be happy.
CD: I went to elementary school with Tim. It’s a small and funny world that the two of us would end up as Lessig’s proteges. But to your question: that’s not copyright, that’s fraud. That’s plagiarism.
JT: OK, if a publisher started selling a book written by “Frank Smith,” but that contained only your words—isn’t that a danger to giving your stuff away electronically, for free?
CD: So, let’s pick the issues right. Let’s first of all say that fraud or plagiarism is bad for a number of different reasons—not all of them having to do with the writer, some of them having to do with the reader. Readers deserve to know that the thing that they buy has been accurately labeled. I also wouldn’t approve if someone sold Coke in a Pepsi can. Not because I particularly like either beverage, but I think fraud is wrong. So that’s the first question. The second question is, “How would I feel if a corporation misappropriated the fruits of my labor and profited by it without my permission?” And that’s a meatier question, but when you conflate the two you just confuse the issue.
I guess it depends on the kind of profit and how they’re profiting by it. So, I don’t get upset if a carpenter sells a bookcase to someone and makes money because that person needs somewhere to put my book. Even though that carpenter is benefiting from my labor. So I think reasonable people can agree that there are categories of use that you have no right to recoup from. And I think that, for example, search results fall into that category. You know, the fact that Amazon or Google want to show quotes from your book alongside search results for people who are trying to find out which books contain which string, I think it’s just crazy to say that you deserve to be compensated for that—even if they could figure out a way to make money off of it. Indexing books is just not in the realm of things that we deserve to get compensated for, any more than library lending is.
And I know that in Europe they do have a library right, and you actually do get compensated for library use. I actually think that’s kind of gross. I don’t think that’s good public policy. If we want to subsidize writers with public money, don’t take it out of the budget of the library. What a disaster for public policy, for good stewardship, to take money out the hands of the public libraries. What a disaster that writers have actually endorsed this plan.
So that leaves us with a narrower category of uses, which are the uses that are neither cultural nor in the realm of accepted, normal, reasonable exceptions to one’s copyright: where it’s a direct infringement and there I do in fact object to a commercial publisher reproducing my work without giving me money for it, holus-bolus, in a way that is not consistent with fair use and historical exceptions to copyright.
But that’s not the same thing as objecting when a reader does it. I think that we’ve always had a different set of rules for what non-commercial actors do than for what commercial actors do. What commercial users of a work do is industrial—that’s copyright; what non-commercial users of a work do is just culture, and culture and copyright have never had the same rules, although according to the law books they do. But the costs of enforcing them culturally—against the person who sings in the shower—those enforcement costs are so high that historically we’ve treated that activity as though it weren’t an infringement, when in some meaningful sense it is. So, the fact that the Internet makes it possible to enforce against certain cultural users I don’t think means that we should enforce against cultural users, or start pretending that schoolchildren should be taught copyright so they can understand it better and not violate it. If things that schoolchildren do in the course of being schoolchildren violate copyright, the problem is with copyright—not with the schoolchildren.
The temperature of media was not McLuhan’s only subject, nor even his most interesting one. Although he is often presented as a glorifier of technological progress, he painted a subtle, sometimes disturbing picture of the future. In one striking sentence from Understanding Media, he offered a dark view of the commercial exploitation of electric media: “Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left.”
BLDGBLOG has a fantastic post on the interconnected mountain fortifications used by the Austrians and Italians in World War One. If you thought the Maginot Line was insane, wait until you see this. Geoff Manaugh’s write-up is as smart as the mountain trenches were crazy:
…the idea of the Alps being riddled with manmade caves and passages, with bunkers and tunnels, bristling with military architecture, even self-connected peak to peak by fortified bridges, the Great Mountain Wall of Northern Italy, architecture literally become mountainous, piled higher and higher upon itself forming new artificial peaks looking down on the fields and cities of Europe, that just fascinates me—not to mention the idea that you could travel up, and thus go further into history, discovering that the past has been buried above you, the geography of time topologically inverted.
He seems to have struck a nerve, or perhaps forensics is a more popular pastime than I would have guessed. The whole affair snowballed to browser-crashing size: If you add the readers’ comments to Morris’ own writing, you get a word count of about 223,000, which—just to put it in perspective—is slightly longer than Moby-Dick.
Science is discovering means of transforming products of the farm into materials for manufacture. Through his experimental farms, Henry Ford now successfully converts the common soy bean into automobile parts and an oil which makes up 30 per cent of the Ford car finish.
Mr. Ford declares that this plastic industry, this evolution of industrial agriculture, still is in its infancy and that its possibilities and opportunities are limitless. As an example, he points out that his laboratories have produced from the soy bean a tough, hard, yet inexpensive material which stands a pressure of 9,000 pounds without breaking… Ford and his chemists envision the time when automobile bodies, houses, skyscrapers and even great monuments may be fabricated from the soy bean.
I think it’s safe to say that this will be the chewiest of my interviews this week—and also the most important. Lawrence Lessig’s Code 2.0 was good, but Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks may well be looked on in the future as highly as John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice is today. If you want a deep, yet readable, look into the issues of how the ‘Net affects cultural production, social justice, and economic development, The Wealth of Networks is the best discussion available. Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. I’m thrilled that he took the time to answer a few questions for me this week.
JT: I first learned about your book over at the Crooked Timber blog—and thought the discussion of your book there was of exceptionally high quality. Moreover, your book has been far more often mentioned than reviewed in the press. Which poses a kind of serial question: When traditional journalists (I’m thinking specifically of Richard Schickel’s rant in the L.A. Times this summer) bemoan the rise of blog culture, do they know what they’re talking about? Have they looked? From your side: How did the Crooked Timber—or other blog receptions—compare to traditional media receptions?
YB: I thought the discussion on Crooked Timber was in fact excellent, as good a discussion as you would get in a thoughtful seminar, whether academic or whenever you get a collection of thoughtful people in a book club. There should be nothing surprising about this, any more than there should be anything surprising about there being blogs that are utter nonsense.
The critical shift represented by the networked information economy is that on the order of a billion people on the planet have the physical capacity to produce and communicate information, knowledge, and culture. This means, in the case of writing, millions or tens of millions of people, rather than a few thousand, get to write in ways that are publicly visible. Of necessity, there will be a wide range.
The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero. They can’t afford it. On the other hand, even the Weekly World News is tame and mainstream by comparison to the quirkiness or plain stupidity some people can exhibit. The range is simply larger. That’s what it means to have a truly diverse public sphere.
If you want to find evidence of nonsense, as of course it is important to people whose sense of self-worth depends on the special role traditional mass media play in the public sphere, you will easily find it. If you want to find the opposite, that too is simple. What’s left is to wait and see over time whether one overwhelms the other. As I wrote in the book, I do not think we are intellectual lemmings. I don’t think we jump over the abyss of drivel, but rather that in this environment of plenty we learn to develop our own sense of which is which, and where to find what. Perfect information about all the good things, we won’t have. But we don’t have it now either. Instead we have new patterns of linking, filtering, recommendation, that allow us to do reasonably well in navigating a much more diverse and interesting information environment than mass media was able to deliver.
JT: Harvard University Press published your book—but you’re also giving it away free on the Web. Which is great, except: it’s 527 PDF pages long, which makes it much more expensive (even double-sided!) to print at home than it is to buy the actual book. What does this tell us about some of the complications inherent in statements like “information wants to be free,” or about things like market efficiency and the marginal costs of distributing information? After all, a book is not just the information inside, but a produced technology—and, often times, a beloved artifact.
YB: It was Yale University Press. Harvard was not willing to release the book under a Creative Commons license, which was the tie-breaker for me between the two presses. As for the online free availability, I think that the facts you describe are part of what gives publishers freedom to experiment with the medium now. The display technology is still sufficiently far behind paper and print, that it’ll be a good few years before free online availability will translate into online delivery in the mode of music or, now, video.
But for me what was more important than simply the freedom to download, was the freedom to do things with the book. That’s why I held out for licensing the book under a CC noncommercial sharealike license. The fact that people were able to take the book and convert it into other formats, including making readings of some portions; that some people began to translate portions of the book; these were the reasons that mattered.
I think for academic books in particular, where people may want to assign short portions, or to have students respond to materials, the flexible, permissive book format offers a good complimentary platform. Similarly, in terms of the economics of academic publication, I think the press found that they did much better than usual with this book, partly, at least, because many more people got partial exposure to it online, and then bought it. But I don’t think that this is the long-term strategy for academic presses. Because ultimately the display technology will catch up. What is the right path for academic presses is to use this transition period to learn how to make online books and book sites into powerful learning platforms, and to use those capabilities to reorient the universities from the trend to treating the presses as self-sustained centers, back to a time when the presses were part of what universities needed to subsidize from their main teaching role—as part of their effort to disseminate the knowledge they produce.
JT: I was disappointed that you didn’t mention Lewis Hyde’s The Gift in your own book. Do you know it? I ask because I thought it would be too easy to simply ask about the “Carr-Benkler Wager,” which, if I’m stating it correctly, concerns the question about whether or not the top Web sites (blogs, Flickr, Wikipedia, YouTube, et. al.) would all be run by professionals in the future. Nicholas Carr says “Yes,” and you say “No.” The problem I have with this is way of framing the question is that it seems to misunderstand why people create—even professionals! Do you take this bet seriously? Regardless of whether you do, isn’t the matter of all production—whether it’s the manufacture of goods, delivery of services, scientific research, artistic creation, or whatever—a lot more complicated than the matter of getting paid for it?
YB: I agree that production, in particular intellectual production, is much more complex than a matter of getting paid for it. I spent a lot of the book, both in Part I on the economics of commons-based individual and peer production, and in Part II in trying to understand the production of the public sphere, both political and cultural, as well as how the commons relate to autonomy and peer production applies to justice and development, trying to work through the complexities of information and knowledge production in different industries, and of different types. My basic claim is that people are diversely motivated, and that large-scale collaboration platforms, with permeable boundaries, freedom and capacity of action, on materials modularized for diversely-sized contributions, allow for the pooling of a diverse range of human talent, insight, experience, and wisdom—much more so than was feasible in more slow-moving organizations, and more richly diverse than a purely price-based system can characterize and monetize.
That the “Carr-Benkler Wager” got boiled down to a soundbite is not my fault. Even Carr’s original critique was twofold: partly about whether there was simply inefficient pricing, and partly about whether we see a re-emergence of hierarchy. I answered only half his challenge, in a short reply post to his original. This was then amplified and simplified. Not necessarily the best example of where the ‘Net improves the quality of information.
JT: Then again… we all like to get paid, don’t we? Whether the pay is in attention, respect, money, what have you—it can be hard to come by: even if you’re just out to Homestead the Noosphere, there are millions of others trying to do the same thing. Blogs do seem to be a way to break through the near-monopolies of mass media, but then there’s this question of the Power Law distribution. In The Wealth of Networks, you propose that the Power Law doesn’t perfectly apply, and talk about how “small world” effects and “shallow paths” actually make the Web and blogs—just as subject to hierarchy as any other network—more porous and democratic than traditional media. Jessica Hagy, to whom I talked earlier this week, is a good example of breaking through—and Douglas Wolk’s idea of blogs as individual gravitational centers with no sun around which to orbit will stick with me for a while. Can you talk briefly about this “bow-tie effect?”
YB: The basic problem as to which I applied the work on link distribution was the claim that discourse was fragmented, and therefore unable to support a public sphere. That is, of course, related to the first question about quality and diversity of information on the ‘Net. The basic insight we get from the empirical work that has been done on link distribution is that we do not randomly bump around from one irrelevant site to another, but that we see a relatively structured web of attention and mutual pointing that marks what is, and what is not, relevant and important to us.
It combines, first, the fact that some sites are in fact much more highly connected than others—this is the top of the power law distribution. It continues with the fact that sties cluster topically. That is, sites about politics are more densely interlinked to each other than they are to sites about bowling. Interestingly, although there is now some evidence to the contrary, it appears that when the clusters are small enough, the lower end of the distribution is less skew—the tail is fatter than the head. That is, there may be a few dozen, or even a hundred, sites, with moderate interlinking, instead of just no links or one link.
If this is true, then it suggests that topics get discussed in intensely-interlinked—and hence interested—clusters of interest, and those topics that reach the attention of this group as important get transmitted up the backbone of attention by the more highly-visible sites of the cluster, to larger clusters, and so on up.
The bow-tie structure is a pattern that emerges in networks where about 30% of the sites are densely interlinked and can be reach from and reach into any other site; and in the 20% of sites that can only reach into the core (these may be new sites, not yet liinked-to); sites than can only be reached from the core (these may be documents, or internal sites not linking further); and sites that are just not connected to the core at all. My point in focusing on this structure was that it suggested that over 50% of the sites on the ‘Net could reach out; and over 50% could be reached from almost anywhere. And by comparison to mass media, this is a vast improvement relative to who could be heard, and who could reach what information.
All this went into my claim that, while the networked public sphere was not the utopia some in the early 1990s would have liked it to be, it was certainly an appreciable and important improvement over the industrial, mass media structure of the public sphere in the century and a half that preceded it.
JT: The Wealth of Networks was described, I believe it was by Time magazine, as “utopian.” I didn’t see it that way, but rather as a book that was as full of sense as it was of hope. But it was a contingent hope: one based on things like ‘Net neutrality, gift economies, open access to information, and so on. Can you leave us with your most hard-headed vision of the hope contained in—and possibly sustained by—The Wealth of Networks?
YB: I agree that The Wealth of Networks is not utopian. I think realistically we can see a large improvement in the number of people who can effectively participate in the production of information, knowledge, and culture. I think more people are creating media; more people have access to a community or site where they can speak their minds. More does not mean everyone. Disparities in access and skill continue. But there are many more, and more diversely motivated and organized voices and creative talents participating than was feasible ten years ago, much less 30 years ago.
I think there are certain well-defined threats to this model. If we end up with a proprietary communications platform, such as the one that the FCC’s spectrum and broadband policies are aiming to achieve; and on that platform we will have proprietary, closed platforms like the iPhone, then much of the promise of the networked environment will be lost.
When the FCC and Congress had an opportunity to make parts of the 700MHz band an open spectrum, to which any device manufacturer could have built devices that would have created user-owned networks, on the model of WiFi but more powerful, they failed in imagination and wisdom. When they were presented by Google with a much thinner, but at least well-reasoned and positive, alternative, to make the 700MHz auction at least require purchasers to resell to anyone who wanted wholesale carriage, so that at least there could be competition, they balked at that too.
We now also see the rising tide of fear leading to a resurgence of “trusted systems”—systems that assume that the owners of computers are either incompetent or malevolent, so the machine has to be “trusted” against its owner. This too can undermine the openness, innovation, and expressive freedom of the networked environment. The threats are many. Some of them come from intentional efforts to hobble the ‘Net in order to preserve incumbent business models. The interventions of the telecomms and the strong copyright lobbies fall into these categories. Some come from simple lack of appreciation for the central role that open, radically decentralized platforms are playing, and it is not necessarily a regulatory mistake as a business mistake.
I am still optimistic. It does seem that people have been opting for open systems when they have been available, and that has provided a strong market push against the efforts to close down the ‘Net. Social practices, more prominently the widespread adoption of participation in peer production, social sites, and DIY media, are the strongest source of pushback. As people practice these freedoms, one hopes that they will continue to support them, politically, but most powerfully perhaps, with their buying power and the power to divert their attention to open platforms rather than closed. This, the fact that decentralized action innovates more quickly, and that people seem to crave the freedom and creativity that it gives them, is the most important force working in favor of our capturing and extending the value of an open network.
One of the many & varied joys of my childhood was screwing around with chemistry sets, erector sets, and rocket kits. What is more fun for a ten or twelve year-old, after all, than watching magnesium burn out in the garage? Or launching a multi-stage rocket over the neighborhood? Alas, it seems like those days may be over:
What do Islamofacism, methamphetamine production, tort lawyers, and homemade fireworks have in common? The answer is that they are all part of the seemingly inevitable process of destroying the childhood Chemistry Set. A.C. Gilbert, in 1918 was titled the “Man who Saved Christmas” with his innovative ideas of packaging a few glass tubes and some common chemicals into starter kits that enabled a generation to learn the joy of experimentation, and the basis for the scientific method of thought.
…her pansexual charisma, shadowed by tales of ghastly physical and emotional suffering, makes her an avatar of liberty and guts. However, Kahlo’s eminence wobbles unless her work holds up. A retrospective at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, proves that it does, and then some. She made some iffy symbological pictures and a few perfectly awful ones—forgivably, given their service to her always imperilled morale—but her self-portraits cannot be overpraised.
The piles of awards handed to The Virginia Quarterly Review since Ted Genoways took the helm in 2003—as well as all the press—and, most importantly, the singular experiences provided by each new issue of VQR are very nearly unprecedented in literary publishing. Truly: it’s a marvel. Ted was kind enough to lend me his time this week to discuss the changes he’s already made at VQR—but also some of the bigger shifts that are coming as blogs and broadband become more popular and the entire magazine industry is starting to wonder: what’s next?
JT: The Virginia Quarterly Review might best have been described as “venerable” when you took it over: you’ve kept the best of the old seriousness, but added a lot to the new mix: photos, comics, even pull-out posters and art. You even garnered a Best American Comics award for Art Spiegelman’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@#*!” this year. Is this new look and feel something you did because things like photography and comics and other visual arts are essential to our culture—or was it also an attempt to make each VQR into something more than just the traditional “book” of quarterly journalism: something as strong as an event and artifact as it in in words and ideas? Is this something print quarterlies are going to have to do to survive?
TG: The short answer on why the magazine is so (comparatively) heavily designed is that we’re a bunch of booklovers, typophiles, and out-and-out design nerds. We love what a beautiful design can do. Gideon Mendel’s photographs of people living with AIDS in Africa, for example, were amazing when paired the testimonies of their subjects—they were no longer just words on a page; they had faces. In this way, the physical object is more than just a vessel or delivery device for the ideas it contains, but it’s also clear that more and more of our audience is finding us online. So we have to have an equally compelling and attractive web presence. Our site has to be as rich and complex as the print issue, and it has to burst with interesting content—and not just words, but also video, audio, additional photos. Like I said, we all love print—and champion it—but we always realize that things change and new possibilities emerge. I won’t be surprised if my son only reads in electronic media when he’s an adult. If that happens, I won’t be as sad as a lot of book people. To me, the magic is in the words, the way they leap from the page. You know, I’m a Whitman guy, and old Walt was a printer himself but hated the obstacles of printing. “I was chilled with the cold types, cylinder, wet paper between us,” he wrote. “I pass so poorly with paper and types, I must pass with the contact of bodies and souls.” If the web allows us to be in contact with more readers—more souls—then how could we not be thrilled by its infinite promise? I think any magazine that doesn’t recognize these new possiblities—or willfully ignores them—does so at its peril.
JT: I don’t know that I’ve paid that close attention to it, but it seems like more and more of your content is online for free—in addition to an increasing amount of online-only content. You used a Google map as an alternate Table of Contents for your latest issue, on South America in the 21st Century. How important is Web traffic to VQR? It seems like the Internet and, specifically, blog conversation is a huge opportunity for the old print quarterlies—most of whom only have a circulation of four or five figures. Do you get a lot of incoming links from online articles and blogs? Has it changed what you see as your mission? Let’s talk possibilities here.
TG: Web traffic is paramount—even more important than it was a few years ago—and for exactly the reasons you suggest. For a print magazine with a total press run of 7,000 copies, the only way to be part of the larger discussion is by using other media. In some cases that has meant getting our authors on NPR or partnering with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to produce news segments for PBS. But people who consume the news through those other media often aren’t big readers, so they’re not likely VQR subscribers. But the people on the Web are still primarily readers, so a recent brief mention on kottke.org of an article that we published in our current issue brought in 25,000 visits, whereas a full hour on NPR’s Fresh Air for another author hardly generated any traffic at all.
So the Web affects the way we do things—we’ve recently hired a full-time Web developer, for example, a real rarity among journals of this kind—but I don’t think it’s changed our mission per se, because it hasn’t changed what we publish. But it has certainly changed the way we approach promoting our material. It’s encouraged us to be a little more expansive, a little less buttoned-down. The Google map adds a little wow factor to our content and hopefully encourages younger readers to tackle our long pieces. This sort of thing gives us the chance to show that our material is serious, but at heart we’re just a bunch of lit nerds who still geek out over new technology.
JT: The New York Times, I’ve noticed, is offering more and better interactive content with its articles—especially their series pieces. For your South America in the 21st Century issue, you’ve put up a fantastic feature on the Urban Virgin paintings of Ana de Orbegoso, accompanied by Odi Gonzales’ poems, each of which is translated into and read in English, Spanish, and Quechua. Can we expect more of this?
Likewise, we see the videos as opportunities to tell our stories in different ways for different audiences. It’s also another perspective, a slightly different angle that adds to and often enriches the print version. In that way, the audio and video is no different than adding photographs.
JT: OK, this last one is a bit tricky, but let’s run with it: is there any possibility for art to crop up on blogs? Have you ever read a blogger and said, “I want that guy!”? I was talking to a friend the other day and she said, “Oh, I don’t want to read blogs for essays and fiction—I just want them to point out the good stuff.” Jason Kottke is a great curator of what’s fascinating: is that the best-suited mission of blogs? Or are there as many ways of blogging, to paraphrase Thoreau, as there are radii in a circle? Pound’s Cantos were pretty ranty—would they have worked as a blog?
TG: This is a fascinating question—and I think the answer is: yes, art is cropping up on blogs. I especially feel this way about bloggers from other parts of the world. It has provided a venue for writers who normally would never have found an American audience. The Iraq war showed us that bloggers like Salam Pax and Riverbend could produce vital records of events as they happened. Riverbend, for example, wrote about meeting someone who had been abused in Abu Ghraib weeks before the story broke in The New Yorker. That blog will be an important record of this war. Does that rise to the level of art? Only time will tell for sure, but I can tell you that there are blogs—from Africa and India, in particular—that have made me aware of writers I never would have found otherwise, and some of that work (fiction primarily) is absolutely outstanding.
But I also continue to be amazed by the incredible small publications around the world. It’s not just Granta anymore. It’s also places like Etiqueta Negra and Caribbean Writing Today. The Web makes those publications readily accessible to anyone with the interest.