“Can I trust you with this?” I said, handing him a $50 card and telling him to buy what he needs, but that I need it back when he was done. He nodded and scrambled to his feet. He said he would be back in a half-hour.
He came back right on time, slurping from a large McDonald’s soft drink cup — root beer — and with sweat on his brow. He wanted to have pork and rice from a Vietnamese noodle joint on Spadina but they wouldn’t take the card. So, he scrambled to McDonald’s. Lunch was a double quarter-pounder with cheese.
The reporter’s offer was frequently declined, which seems surprising at first. But panhandlers are savvy businesspeople. They didn’t want a short-term and potentially risky venture interfering with their main panhandling income stream. Eyes on the prize. (via the browser)
A year later, Obama’s appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice. The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government’s expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end. On August 23rd, however, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, halted federal spending for embryonic-stem-cell research, putting hundreds of research projects in limbo and plunging the N.I.H. back into a newly contentious national debate.
This is fantastic: a classically trained voice teacher who knows nothing about metal analyzes five singers from the genre, from Ozzy Osbourne to Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. Of Dickenson she says:
I have nothing but admiration for this singer. Listen how he starts off with a soft growl, then moves seamlessly into a well-supported, sustained high full-voice sound that then evolves into an effortless long scream! His diction is easily intelligible, regardless of the range he’s singing in or the effect he’s going for. He achieves an intensely rhythmic delivery of the lyrics without losing legato and musical momentum, something a lot of classical singers struggle with, especially when interpreting the many staccato and accent markings that crowd scores by Bellini, Donizetti, etc.
I’m no classically trained anything, but I have been listening to a lot of hard rock and metal from the 70s and 80s lately.1 Out of the context of its time, its genre, and whatever shock value the music held when it was first released, there is some genuinely good music there. (via clusterflock)
 Been doing lots of driving this summer and without a working iPod in the car, the rock stations are the only music that Meg and I can both agree on. Well, besides classical or NPR, but those won’t keep the baby quiet the way AC/DC or Skynyrd will. ↩
It is not a list of my favorite typefaces, nor is it a list of the most popular typefaces. Instead, it is a list of typefaces that have been “important” for one reason or another. However, I am not going to provide my reasons. Instead, I am going to let the readers of this blog see if they can figure out the contribution that each of these ten faces makes.
This 45-minute documentary on Andrew Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem is surprisingly powerful and emotional. Give it until 1:45 or so and you’ll want to watch the whole thing. The film is not really about math; it’s about all of those movie trailer cliches — “one man!”, “finds the truth!”, “fights the odds!”, etc. — except that this is actually true and poignant.
14. I don’t care if the restaurant is pouring Chateau Latour into Minnie Mouse mugs, don’t walk into a restaurant carrying your own wine glasses. It’s more pretentious than wearing a monocle and spats.
In a 31-square-mile area in Brazil that is off limits to logging companies, the sole survivor of an uncontacted tribe lives. All by himself.
Advanced societies invariably have subsumed whatever indigenous populations they’ve encountered, determining those tribes’ fates for them. But Brazil is in the middle of an experiment. If peaceful contact is established with the lone Indian, they want it to be his choice. They’ve dubbed this the “Policy of No Contact.” After years of often-tragic attempts to assimilate into modern life the people who still inhabit the few remaining wild places on the planet, the policy is a step in a totally different direction. The case of the lone Indian represents its most challenging test.
A sad story. But perhaps only to the culturally modern. It’s almost impossible to be alone in today’s world; maybe that’s not such a good thing sometimes. Loneliness on the other hand…200 messages per hour from your Twitter pals still can’t cure that.
When we researched how notes are used we realized people tend to handle and deal with money vertically rather than horizontally. You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases. All machines accept notes vertically. Therefore a vertical note makes more sense.
The note imagery relates to the value of each note:
$1 - The first African American president $5 - The five biggest native American tribes $10 - The bill of rights, the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution $20 - 20th Century America $50 - The 50 States of America $100 - The first 100 days of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Needs more guilloche but other than that: fire up the presses.
This series of videos from the NY Times is called The Beauty of the Power Game and I can’t tell if they are cheap & exploitive or beautiful & revealing. They show women tennis players hitting shots in slow motion. The one of Victoria Azarenka is the best by far…the camera pans up her body slowly, showing first her footwork, then the pivot, backswing, intense focus of the eyes, swing, and finally the followthrough.
On Dec 13, 2006, the sun itself provided a crucial clue, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth. Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins, while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics, noticed that the rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.
If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares prior to their occurrence, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space.
The decay-rate aberrations that Jenkins noticed occurred during the middle of the night in Indiana — meaning that something produced by the sun had traveled all the way through the Earth to reach Jenkins’ detectors. What could the flare send forth that could have such an effect?
Jenkins and Fischbach guessed that the culprits in this bit of decay-rate mischief were probably solar neutrinos, the almost massless particles famous for flying at nearly the speed of light through the physical world — humans, rocks, oceans or planets — with virtually no interaction with anything.
Maybe the science part of 2012 wasn’t so far-fetched after all. (No, not really.)
In blind soccer, there are five on each side, a goalie and four outfield players. The goalie can be sighted or visually impaired and must stay in his designated goalie box. His teammates, meanwhile, wear eye shields so as to take away any competitive advantage from those players that may have limited vision over those who have no sight whatsoever. There are no throw-ins, as there is a wall surrounding the shrunken (at least, by typical soccer standards) playing field, and each team has someone calling out instructions from behind one of the goals. The players can call each other either by name or by shouting “Yeah!” And when you’re approaching to engage another player to steal the ball, you must shout “Voy!” — Spanish for I’m here! That means that you’ve got to discern the voice of your teammates — since everyone on the pitch is yelling “Yeah!” — and have a sense of where you are with the ball (which contains ball bearings, to help with tactility on the foot) in relation to the goal.
If 4chan’s anonymity is good for anything, it turns out, it’s good for lulz. Consider, Poole explains, how the fixed identities in other online communities can stifle creativity: where usernames are required (whether real or pseudonymous), a new user who posts a few failed attempts at humor will soon find other users associating that name with failure. “Even if you’re posting gold by day eight,” says Poole, “they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this guy sucks.’” Names, in other words, make failure costly, thus discouraging even the attempt to succeed. By the same token, namelessness makes failure cheap — nearly costless, reputation-wise, in a setting like 4chan, where the Anonymous who posted a lame joke five minutes ago might well be the same Anonymous who’s mocking it hilariously right now. And as the social-media theorist Clay Shirky has suggested in another context (explaining how the plummeting costs of networked collaboration encourage, say, a thousand open-source software projects to launch for every one that gets anywhere), the closer a community gets to “failure for free,” the better its chances of generating success.
Privately held Trader Joe’s is highly secretive and doesn’t do interviews, so Fortune did some digging around to see what makes the retail chain such a success.
A ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers. Registers don’t have conveyor belts or scales, and perishables are sold by unit instead of weight, speeding up checkout. Crew members aren’t told the margins on products, so placement decisions are made based not on profits but on what’s best for the shopper. Every employee works all aspects of the store, and if you ask where the roasted chestnuts are he’ll walk you over instead of just saying “aisle five.” Want to know what they taste like? He can probably tell you, and he might even open the bag on the spot for you to try.
Customer service, pay people well, and trust them to do good work. That and be clever about what you sell and to whom.
In my view, however, Tutankhamun’s health was compromised from the moment he was conceived. His mother and father were full brother and sister. Pharaonic Egypt was not the only society in history to institutionalize royal incest, which can have political advantages. But there can be a dangerous consequence. Married siblings are more likely to pass on twin copies of harmful genes, leaving their children vulnerable to a variety of genetic defects. Tut ankhamun’s malformed foot may have been one such flaw. We suspect he also had a partially cleft palate, another congenital defect. Perhaps he struggled against others until a severe bout of malaria or a leg broken in an accident added one strain too many to a body that could no longer carry the load.
It’s likely that Tut’s wife was his half-sister as well.
And the thing is spinning the whole time? What I don’t understand is how he manages to suspend the laws of physics only within his personal space…it’s not like audience members are floating away or anything. (via mathowie)
The traffic jam has sparked some entrepreneurial spirit for local residents, which has added to traffic-hostages’ annoyance. One truck driver complained that vendors were selling instant noodles for “four times the original price while I wait in the congestion.”
Tom Vanderbuilt, who wrote the book on traffic, notes that the jam is on its way to becoming a small settlement. (via mr)
Uh oh, this one is going to be a big timesink. Timetub? Timelake? Anyway, try out Solipskier and feel the rest of your day slipping away. My top so far: 18.7 million…I got a lot better once I tried it on the iPad. (via waxy)
Somehow it became NSFW day here at kottke.org. So we’re rolling with it, in the hay. Here’s the Tron version of the Kama Sutra. It is so very NSFW even though everyone stays fully clothed in glowing blue garments.
Nick Gleis shoots the interiors of corporate jets owned by African dictators and other heads of state. I couldn’t decide which jet interior was the gaudiest, but this one is definitely a contender because of the classy naked ladies on the wall of the bedroom.
Who knew that African dictators were so nostalgic for the set design of Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Great song by Cee-Lo, who you may know as one half of Gnarls Barkley.
NSFW in both the visual and audio departments for extensive use of the phrase “fuck you”.
I love Anil’s comment that the video is “a little bit Tobias, and a little bit Sasha”. And indeed the typeface in the video is Champion Gothic, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones’ partner, Jonathan Hoefler.
Some were “sinkers”: Those who crave the sensation of being mired in deep mud, the suction that’s created when you step into water-logged clay. The stories they post to the group message boards-which have flourished over the past 15 years- suggest a shared spirit of adventure. Last summer, one quicksand fan set up a collaborative Google map for sinking holes, which now has more than 100 sites marked around the world-from the tidal muds near San Diego, Calif., to the loamy bogs of Finland. (Holes are assigned a score from 1 to 10, depending on amenities like privacy, depth, thickness, and available parking.)
Edwards is a different kind of quicksand fan, though. He has no interest in getting muddy himself-he’s more a looker than a doer, someone who likes to see pictures and film-clips of other people being submerged. Not every looker has the same tastes: Edwards calls himself a knees-to-waist kind of guy; others prefer someone stuck to the armpits; and still more are into “grim endings”-where the sinker disappears below the surface in a trail of mud bubbles. (Headfirst sinkings appeal to a small but dedicated minority.)
The beer-like way of serving champagne was found to impact its concentration of dissolved CO2 significantly less. Moreover, the higher the champagne temperature is, the higher its loss of dissolved CO2 during the pouring process, which finally constitutes the first analytical proof that low temperatures prolong the drink’s chill and helps it to retain its effervescence during the pouring process.
If you are filming a Girls Gone Wild video or are in the late stages of a wedding reception, pouring champagne directly into a person’s mouth is also an effective bubble-preservation technique. (via @matthiasrascher)
Take a little time with this one, zoom it in and out, especially on big cities. Excluding everything but the labels from the map emphasizes the Powers of Ten-like design of highly effective zoomable online maps. (via waxy)
Of the three reviewers, only Kuroishi manages to play it all the way to the end. Two of the three are missing their pinkies — in the old days, when a yakuza or his subordinates screwed up, they chopped off pinkies as an act of atonement — and this seems to affect their gameplay.
The game got high marks overall.
M: The corporate yakuza guys get a thumbs up for realism. Nice suit. Smart. Financially savvy. Obsessed with money. Sneaky and conniving. Ruthless. S: There are a lot of guys whom I feel like I know. The dialogue is right too. They sound like yakuza. K: Braggarts, bullies, and sweet-talkers. I agree — it feels like I know the guys on the screen. M: Kiryu is the way yakuza used to be. We kept the streets clean. People liked us. We didn’t bother ordinary citizens. We respected our bosses. Now, guys like that only exist in video games. S: I don’t know any ex-yakuza running orphanages. K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy. M: You sure it wasn’t just a tax shelter? K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.
Back in the late 90s, Club New York was one of the hottest clubs in the city, even though it sounds like some sort of fictional club in the direct-to-DVD Night at the Roxbury 2
Then, one wintry evening in 1999, Diddy, J-Lo, and Shyne were at the club when all hell broke loose. Guns were pulled, women were shot in the face, and when all the dust settled, Shyne and Diddy were on trial at Manhattan Criminal Court
Diddy was acquitted, while Shyne was sent to prison for 9 years.
National Geographic’s front cover is a great example of how well simple branding can be tied to a product or message. In this case, the slightly warm yellow has become a symbol of wonderful photography, intriguing articles and serves as a doorway into places worlds away.
Cardullo centers the conversation around Truffaut’s first feature film, “The 400 Blows,” the overwhelming success of which, in 1959, was a key moment in the launching of the French New Wave. As such, he gets Truffaut to talk about what went into the beginning of his career and how his filmmaking process was influenced by his years of work as a film critic and his lifelong obsession with watching movies.
Mr. Ling, one of the partners from the injection molding factory, picked up Henry and me at our hotel. Henry was quick to inform Mr. Ling that he did not speak Cantonese, the local language. This deception positioned Henry as a spy for me, pretending to not understand the conversations between my agent, Lenny, the molder, Mr. Ling, and the tool maker. After a short while, Henry pulled me aside and advised me to get my business out of Swift Tread as swiftly as possible. He overheard the toolmaker tell Mr. Ling that there was nothing else he could do to adjust the mold. Henry also learned that my agent, Vinnie — who was supposed to have my interests at heart — was really protecting the interests of the molder.
My three-year-old son has four Automoblox cars. He loves them and plays with them as much as all his other toys and books combined. (via hello typepad)
With Friedman’s work, it seems Gödel’s delayed triumph has arrived: the final proof that if there is a universal grammar of numbers in which all facets of their behaviour can be expressed, it lies beyond our ken.
But don’t worry…”the most severe implications are philosophical”. Phew?
Wired published a story on the web today called The Web Is Dead. The most appropriate response to such a claim is something close to Tim Carmody’s series of tweets demonstrating the parallels between the growth of the web and Brett Favre’s professional football career. The web isn’t dead yet, says Carmody, because Brett Favre hasn’t retired. It’s our culture’s most significant symbiotic relationship since E.T. and Gertie’s flower.
The web became publicly available on August 6, 1991. Brett Favre was a rookie in the Falcons’ camp, having signed a contract July 19.
1993 saw the introduction of Mosaic’s graphical browser, Favre’s first full year as a starter, and the Packers’ first playoffs since 1982.
In 1995, Favre wins the MVP, the Packers get to the NFC Championships, and Windows 95 brings the internet & graphic interface to the masses.
Brett Favre’s first Super Bowl win coincided precisely (almost to the day) of Steve Jobs’s return to Apple.
And so on. Carmody’s bottom line:
What this means: like Favre, the open web has been with us for a long time, in good times & bad. Never count it out. Never believe the hype.
Even concussed, full of painkillers, with a dead dad and a wiped-out house, I’ll let that 20-year-old vet lead me down the field. Anytime.
Come on, web, just one more year! HTML5’ll make you feel young again!
I totally didn’t know that David Fincher was directing an American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist. First the Facebook movie and now this. Fincher’s career continues to develop in a curious fashion.
In 2000, David Jay came out to his parents. But they were surprised by what he told them. He was asexual. David knew he was not alone in his feelings. He bought the url for asexuality.org and soon, the forum he created for people to talk about their experiences as asexuals was abuzz around the globe online and on talk shows like The View. Inspired by the LGBT movement of the 1960s, Jay is growing the asexual movement. Other members of his community are skeptical that they are a part of the LGBT community. But Jay and experts, like Dan Savage, agree that asexuals are a sexual minority and therefore eligible. But are members of the sex-positive PRIDE march going to accept a group that has rejected sex?
To begin with, you must master the controller. On the Xbox 360 controller, which looks like a catamaran, there are seventeen possible points of contact. In order to run, crouch, aim, fire, pause, leap, speak, stab, grab, kick, dismember, unlock, climb, crawl, parry, roll, or resuscitate a fallen comrade, you must press or nudge or woggle these various buttons singly or in combination, performing tiny feats of exactitude that are different for each game. It’s a little like playing “Blue Rondo a la Turk” on the clarinet, then switching to the tenor sax, then the oboe, then back to the clarinet.
From a 1997 issue of Harper’s, a Michael Pollan piece called Opium Made Easy. Written before even The Botany of Desire (and his later well-known books on food), the article explores the seeming illegality of growing poppies in one’s personal garden coupled with the relative ease of procuring poppies for growing and making them into a sort of opium tea once grown. A long but interesting read.
The language of the statute was distressingly clear. Not only opium but “opium poppy and poppy straw” are defined as Schedule II controlled substances, right alongside PCP and cocaine. The prohibited poppy is defined as a “plant of the species Papaver somniferum L., except the seed thereof,” and poppy straw is defined as “all parts, except the seeds, of the opium poppy, after mowing.” In other words, dried poppies.
Section 841 of the act reads, “[I]t shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally … to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense” opium poppies. The definition of “manufacturing” includes propagating — i.e., growing. Three things struck me as noteworthy about the language of the statute. The first was that it goes out of its way to state that opium poppy seeds are, in fact, legal, presumably because of their legitimate culinary uses. There seems to be a chicken-and-egg paradox here, however, in which illegal poppy plants produce legal poppy seeds from which grow illegal poppy plants.
The second thing that struck me about the statute’s language was the fact that, in order for growing opium poppies to be a crime, it must be done “knowingly or intentionally.” Opium poppies are commonly sold under more than one botanical name, only one of which — Papaver somniferum — is specifically mentioned in the law, so it is entirely possible that a gardener could be growing opium poppies without knowing it. There would therefore appear to be an “innocent gardener” defense. Not that it would do me any good: at least some of the poppies I’d planted had been clearly labeled Papaver somniferum, a fact that I have — perhaps foolishly — confessed in these very pages to knowing. The third thing that struck me was the most stunning of all: the penalty for knowingly growing Papaver somniferum is a prison term of five to twenty years and a maximum fine of $1 million.
The only reason I ever go to MoMA anymore is so that my son can see the helicopter and whatever motor vehicles are on display in the design collection, but if I get a chance to sneak away soon, I’m definitely making use of the MoMA’s new iPhone app: tours, a catalog of thousands of works, events calendar, etc.
Man oh man, thanks to Tim Carmody for more than holding down the fort around here. I liked the part where he tied almost everything in the universe together. Paging James Burke.
And how nice of you to ask, here’s what I did on my vacation: beach almost every day for two weeks, sweet corn, teaching the boy wiffle ball, fishing without a hook, foggywaves, Red Sox game at Fenway, seven Mercurial commits, whiskey sours, [redacted], building sand castles, teaching the girl how to share, etc. Ready to get back at it.
Instead, it’s a two-dimensional flattening of a three-dimensional reality. Actually, we should probably say a FOUR-dimensional reality. The light from stars at varying distances, leaving their sources at various times in the distant past, gets mistaken, from our earthbound point-of-view, as a simultaneous two-dimensional pattern.
BUT! That distortion, that accident, produces something extremely powerful — both imaginatively and practically.
They help us navigate, and they tell us stories.
Thank you, Kottke readers, for putting up with my crazy constellations. And thank you, Jason.
I’ve always thought that passivity is underrated. One of the nice things about going to the movies is that once you’re there, everything just happens to you. In the seventies, film theory took on a lot of anti-consumerist and weirdly sexual politics where, for some reason, it was better to be active than passive, which always just feels very vanilla. I mean, sometimes you’re active, sometimes you’re passive, and sometimes you’re just playing around, which isn’t really either, but all three are good.
You could apply this three-part scheme to a lot of things (three-part schemes are good for that), but I thought of it reading this 1997 essay “The Book and the Labyrinth,” on cybertexts and literature that, like a lot of games we’re familiar with, cycles through a variety of different architectural possibilities.
The author, Espen J. Aarseth, gives three predigital historical examples of this kind of literature: the I Ching, which is literally random, like throwing dice; Apollinaire’s Caligrammes, which contains more like concrete poetry that can be read in multiple (or sometimes just unexpected) directions (there are plenty of “traditional” free verse poems in that book, too); and Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes (One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems) — which sounds about as right in French as “a million billion trillion dollars” does in English — ten sonnets printed on cards with each line on a separated strip, where all the lines can be recombined to produce new sonnets in any sequence.
Whitney Anne Trettien calls these “text-generating mechanisms,” and her thesis (Computers, Cut-ups & Combinatory Volvelles) offers much more history on this kind of literary play, while also being an excellent example of what Aarseth would call a cybertext.
My two favorites, however, are both by French poet Stephane Mallarme. (The French love these things almost as much as they love their accented vowels.) This is an image from his poem “Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard” or “A throw of the dice will never abolish chance”:
You can read the poem linearly (such as it is), but even to find its putative title, you have to skip words, finding a thread in different fonts and sizes. It’s the first (and maybe the last) truly avant-garde poem that uses space this way. And it never turned out exactly the way Mallarme wanted it.
He had precise instructions on the layout of the poem, he had precise instructions on the layout of negative space, he had precise instructions on the kind and quality of paper to be used, the type of binding, and so forth. This radical, go-in-any-direction-you-wish experiment was through-designed in a way that was impossible to fulfill.
It’s not a poem even as we would recognize it. It’s an architecture.
My other favorite example was called simply Le Livre (The Book), or sometimes The Great Work. We don’t even know its contents. All we have are unpublished notes that detail (in part) its physical arrangement and rearrangement, storage, where the reader of the book would stand in relationship to the audience while a reading was performed (yes, this book would be performed), how much money would be charged, how many performances could occur in each day, etc., etc., etc.
It’s like having detailed instructions for the proper handling of the ark of the covenant, and no ark. And it wasn’t lost — there never was one.
And that may be where we are. The only way to abolish chance — to create the space for action, audience, and game simultaneously — may be to create a structure with nothing inside, no mistakes to be made because there is nothing for them on which to be made, “a labyrinth with no center” (which is what Borges called the “metaphysical detective story” Citizen Kane).
Mallarme invented vaporware, the LOST questions that never get answered, the giant 404. It wasn’t his fault. It was supposed to be great.
I had a number of practicing writers in mind when I started using the word “paleoblogging,” including Matt Novak of Paleo-Future. Matt’s particularly good at pulling images and advertisements from old periodicals and ephemera — stuff that doesn’t even usually get digitally indexed — that taken together reveal a kind of historical unconscious of old ideas and fears about the future.
Here’s a good one (from the archives, naturally) of a 1930 ad warning of the death of the music industry at the hands of guitar-playing robots.
As usual, there’s an additional layer of allegory here — the robots are just a convenient stand-in for “canned,” piped-in music from gramophone records (or maybe even the radio, I don’t know) in theaters. Just remember: even if they play guitar, write really sensitive songs, and seem like they can express what you’ve always thought but just couldn’t find the words to say, don’t date robots!
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist for the Atlantic who blogs mostly about contemporary cultural issues, hip-hop, politics, nerd culture, race relations, video games, journalism, and the American Civil War. (I’m guessing, no statistical averages here.)
When I was a kid at Howard, I used to go into Ben’s Chili Bowl and hit the jukebox. I always played Otis Redding, The JBs, or Sam and Dave. I knew this music for two reasons: 1.) It was what my parents played, and on long road trips their music, not mine, was the soundtrack. It’s like being black in America—I knew that part of their world in a way that they could not know mine. 2.) Hip-Hop created a culture of Digging In The Crates. The notion was that digging through crates and crates of records to find a gem was something to be prized.
Whatever you think of the music, no self-respecting hip-hop head, at that time, could ever get away with saying, “Man, I don’t be listening to no Ella Fitzgerald!” Your friends would have looked at you like you were crazy. Knowledge—not the kind of ignorance Rooney evinces here—was prized. I remember going into Ben’s and the old heads looking over and going, “Son, what you know about that?”
Here’s what I knew—when me and Kenyatta took long drives through Maryland, I knew to play Otis Redding, not H-Town. I learned that digging through the crates. I learned that from my parents. But I never said that of course. I just laughed because it was cool and it was funny. But it was also instructional, and here I must apply what I’ve learned. Perhaps my generation had a monopoly on that kind of knowledge. Maybe young people today really don’t know who Ella Fitzgerald is. I don’t really know.
The brand-new Radiolab episode “Words” is characteristically terrific; I tweeted this after listening to just the opening section:
I love hearing @JadAbumrad’s voice fill my room, but @wnycradiolab’s “Words” is fucking me up right now. You’ve made a grown man cry. Shit.
There’s also an accompanying video, made by Will Hoffman, Daniel Mercadante, and Keith Kenniff:
Also, it’s not the VERY best section of the program, but there is a very nice exploration of Shakespeare’s inventive use of language that word/history nerds like me will especially enjoy. (I’m using inventive in its proper dual sense of innovative inventory, making new use of material already at hand. It’s easy to overstate how many words Shakespeare “actually” “invented.”)
Now “Words” is mostly about the relationship between language and our ability to make conceptual distinctions to connect or distinguish between different things. The 2006 episode “Musical Language” traces the other path words take to the brain, through our ears. (Note: I still think this is the greatest episode of Radiolab of ALL TIME. Story, reporting, production - just note and letter perfect.)
This show starts out by introducing a random earworm so insistent and amazing, it would wreck everything if I were to give it away. Instead, I’ll just give you the summary of the historically-tasty middle of the show, and let you take it away from there:
Anne Fernald explains our need to goochie-goochie-goo at every baby we meet, and absolves us of our guilt. This kind of talk, dubbed motherese, is an instict that crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. Caecilius was goochie-goochie-gooing in Rome; Grunt was goochie-gooing in the caves. Radio Lab did our own study of infant-directed speech, recording more than a dozen different parents. The melodies of these recordings illustrate Fernald’s findings that there are a set of common tunes living within the words that parents all over the world intone to their babies.
Then, science reporter Jonah Lehrer takes us on a tour through the ear as we try to understand how the brain makes sense of soundwaves and what happens when it can’t. Which brings us to one particularly riotous example: the 1913 debut performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Jonah suggests that the brain’s attempt to tackle disonant sounds resulted in old ladies tackling each other.
What are you waiting for? Go! Listen to them both!
Film Critics GENE SISKEL and ROGER EBERT join Terry Gross on stage in Chicago for a “live” audience version of Fresh Air. This was recorded in February 1996. The duo began their TV collaboration in 1975 on Chicago Public Television station WTTW. After two successful season, the program became a national PBS show. In 1981 it moved to commercial television.Their show is now known as “Siskel and Ebert” and is heard in 180 markets. Gene Siskel is film colmnist for the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert is critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. “Siskel and Ebert” has been nominated for five national emmy awards. Ebert has recieved a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism.
I don’t know how people in the industry feel, but for me, the internet is the best thing that ever happened to radio.
A show like Futurama just can’t stay in the past. It keeps coming back, just like our friend Jesus. So do references to Jesus in the show.
You would think that dropping the J-word would initially be pretty mild and nonspecific, then ramp up. But the first season’s “When Aliens Attack” comes out swinging:
Earth is invaded by Omicronians demanding to see the season finale of Single Female Lawyer, a television show which was accidentally knocked off the air 1,000 years earlier by Fry. Professor Farnsworth explains that the show no longer exists because most video tapes from that era were destroyed during the Second Coming of Jesus in the year 2443. Ken Keeler, the writer of the episode, considered this joke one of the most blasphemous lines in the show, because it suggested that the Second Coming had been and gone and life on Earth had carried on much as before.
The beginning of “Future Stock” has a toss-off reference:
At the Bot Mitzvah, Fry asks a Jewish robot if they don’t believe in Robot Jesus, to which the robot replies, “We believe he was built, and that he was a very well-programmed robot, but he wasn’t our Messiah”.
In “A Tale of Two Santas”, Bender, posing as the murderous robot Santa Claus, is arrested and put on death row. “All of the crew dress up as Santa and Zoidberg dresses up as ‘his friend Jesus’ to attempt to stay Bender’s execution.”
Fry: I’m Santa Claus! Hermes: No, I’m Santa Claus! Amy: We’re also Santa Claus! Dr. Zoidberg: And I’m his friend Jesus. Mayor: You guys aren’t Santa! You’re not even robots. How dare you lie in front of Jesus?
When the real Robot Santa appears and attacks the crew and the people attempting to execute Bender, the executioner exclaims “Get him, Jesus!” before diving behind an object, and in reference to Benjamin Franklin’s famous remark, Zoidberg replies, “I help those who help themselves.”
On several occasions, Professor Farnsworth uses the phrase “Sweet Zombie Jesus!” as an expression of shock or dismay. These exclamations are usually cut for syndication in the United States. In the DVD of Futurama episode “The Deep South,” a cut scene shows Farnsworth muttering in his sleep about the Zombie Jesus returning at tea-time, when Farnsworth has no food to supply it.
But that Wikipedia entry missed this line from “Less Than Hero”:
Leela: Man, I’m sore all over. I feel like I just went ten rounds with mighty Thor. Fry: I feel like I was mauled by Jesus.
I haven’t scoured their online archives nor do I own the Complete DVD, but my all-time favorite New Yorker article is easily Ian “Sandy” Frazier’s “Invaders.” It begins the way many of my conversations do:
Recently, I’ve been buttonholing everybody I know and telling them about Hulagu. What happened was, a couple of years ago Osama bin Laden said (in one of his intermittent recorded messages to the world) that during the previous Gulf War Colin Powell and Dick Cheney had destroyed Baghdad worse than Hulagu of the Mongols. Bin Laden provided no further identification of Hulagu, probably assuming that none was needed. Of course, almost no one in America had any idea what he was talking about, so news stories helpfully added that Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was a Mongol general who sacked Baghdad in the year 1258. Beyond that footnote, the press as a whole shrugged at bin Laden’s out-of-left-field comparison and moved on.
Frazier has a gift for condensed multidimensional connections. For instance, the Mongols’ army was so devastating and mobile because, coming from the steppes, they were magnificent on horseback and had used draft animals to carry around all their equipment:
Fuelled by grass, the Mongol empire could be described as solar-powered; it was an empire of the land. Later empires, such as the British, moved by ship and were wind-powered, empires of the sea. The American empire, if it is an empire, runs on oil and is an empire of the air. On the world’s largest landmass, Iraq is a main crossroads; most aspirants to empire eventually pass through there.
But in the territories they ruled, they weren’t barbarians at the gates: they had a terrific (and fast) postal service, they gave Marco Polo safe passage across Asia, tolerated the religions they encountered (if not always their adherents), and eventually largely converted to a pacifist Buddhism that pretty much spelled the end of the conquering empire.
Their legacy, however, both historical and biological, was secured:
Amassing large harems was an important occupation of the khans. Genghis Khan was said to have had five hundred wives and concubines. When the Mongols overran a place, their captains took some of the women and passed along the more beautiful ones to their superiors, who passed the more beautiful to their superiors, and so on all the way to the khan, who could choose among the pulchritude of a continent. Genghis Khan had scores of children, as did other khans and nobles descended from him for centuries in the Genghis Khanite line.
Recently, a geneticist at Oxford University, Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, and geneticists from China and central Asia took blood samples from populations living in regions near the former Mongol empire, and they studied the Y chromosomes. These are useful in establishing lineage because Y chromosomes continue from father to son. Dr. Tyler-Smith and his colleagues found that an anomalously large number of the Y chromosomes carried a genetic signature indicating descent from a single common ancestor about a thousand years ago. The scientists theorized that the ancestor was Genghis Khan (or, more exactly, an eleventh-century ancestor of Genghis Khan). About eight per cent of all males in the region studied, or sixteen million men, possess this chromosome signature. That’s a half per cent of the world’s entire male population. It is possible, therefore, that more than thirty-two million people in the world today are descended from Genghis Khan.
He was in the hands of medicine. He was hopeful but realistic. He will come to feel increasingly like a member of the audience in the theater of his own illness. I’ve been there. There were times when I seemed to have nothing to do with it. One night, unable to speak, I caught the eye of a nurse through my open door and pointed to the blood leaking from my hospital gown. She pushed a panic button and my bed was surrounded by an emergency team, the duty physician pushing his fingers with great force against my carotid artery to halt the bleeding. I was hoisted on my sheet over to a gurney, and raced to the OR. “Move it, people,” he shouted. “We’re going to lose this man.”
Anderson Cooper asked Hitchens whether he’d been moved by the prayer groups supporting him to pray himself:
“No, that’s all meaningless to me. I don’t think souls or bodies can be changed by incantation.” There was a catch in his voice, and the slightest hint of tears. That was the moment — not the cancer or the dying — that got to me. Prayer groups also prayed for me, and I was grateful and moved. It isn’t the sad people in movies who make me cry, it’s the good ones.
Hitchens added that if there should be reports of his deathbed conversion, they would be reports of a man “irrational and babbling with pain.” As long as he retains his thinking ability, he said, there will be no conversion to belief in God. This is what I expected him to say. Deathbed conversions have always seemed to me like a Hail Mary Pass, proving nothing about religion and much about desperation.
I wrote this at Snarkmarket at the beginning of the week:
Recent efforts by Tony Judt, Christopher Hitchens, Atul Gawande, following on slightly older ones by Joan Didion and Phillip Roth, make me wonder whether we’ve achieved a new breakthrough in our ability to write about death — perhaps especially protracted death, death within the context of medical treatment, in a secular context, which as Gawande reminds us, is comparatively new and certainly much more common.
Here’s the section of Gawande’s recent New Yorker essay I was thinking of:
For all but our most recent history, dying was typically a brief process. Whether the cause was childhood infection, difficult childbirth, heart attack, or pneumonia, the interval between recognizing that you had a life-threatening ailment and death was often just a matter of days or weeks… [A]s the end-of-life researcher Joanne Lynn has observed, people usually experienced life-threatening illness the way they experienced bad weather—as something that struck with little warning—and you either got through it or you didn’t.
An unexpected cost of the secularization/medicalization of death is that we lose the language we need to talk our way through it:
Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.
These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost.
That’s one of the stunning things about Gawande’s essay — how much of what it describes is a failure of language. No one can speak, at least directly; we can only watch.
William Gladstone was very nearly Abraham Lincoln’s exact contemporary, both born in 1809 (Lincoln was 10 months older), only he was born in Liverpool, not Kentucky. He was a legendary orator and liberal lion, like an approximation of Lincoln and Ted Kennedy. He served as a member of parliament for almost 50 years, including as Prime Minster four times, before retiring in 1894. (Could you imagine if Lincoln had lived until 1894?)
He also had a great nickname: G.O.M., for “Grand Old Man.” His Tory counterpart Disraeli called him “God’s Only Mistake.”
The request that you have done me the honour to make - to receive the record of my voice - is one that I cheerfully comply with so far as it lies in my power, though I lament to say that the voice which I transmit to you is only the relic of an organ the employment of which has been overstrained. Yet I offer to you as much as I possess and so much as old age has left me, with the utmost satisfaction, as being, at least, a testimony to the instruction and delight that I have received from your marvellous invention. As to the future consequences, it is impossible to anticipate them. All I see is that wonders upon wonders are opening before us.
Edison hired an actor to re-record Gladstone’s lines
Gladstone sent someone else to read for him
and Edison either:
passed it off as Gladstone’s voice anyways or
collectors later falsified it or got confused.
Anyways, the following clip has been put forward as a more credible candidate for being an actual recording of octogenarian Gladstone (reading the same text, which if true throws doubt on the whole “he sent somebody else to read it” theory):
Actually, I can imagine this scenario:
Gladstone records his voice
Edison’s unhappy with the quality, asks Gladstone to re-record it
Gladstone sends a friend to tell Edison to sod off,
Edison says, fuck it, let’s loop it, who knows what Gladstone sounds like anyways
I always liked the way poet Frank O’Hara walked up to the manifesto:
Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can’t be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don’t believe in god, so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”
But what do we call it, Frank? We need a name.
Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about… was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only just that poetry finish literature off.
LeRoi Jones eventually changed his name to Amiri Baraka. Alain Robbe-Grillet was an proto-postmodern French novelist associated with the nouveau roman, or “new novel.” It’s probably better if I let you figure out what a Lucky Pierre is for yourself.
Because O’Hara dated his poems, we know what poem he wrote between lunch with Jones and picking up the telephone; appropriately, it’s called “personal poem”:
Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I’m happy for a time and interested
I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I’d like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty’s when I wait for
LeRol and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that’s that, and LeRol comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don’t give her one we
don’t like terrible diseases, then
we go eat some fish and some ale it’s
cool but crowded we don’t like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don’t like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don’t want to be in the poet’s walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRol
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so
Here is a photo of Davis after being beaten:
One reason Davis’s assault and arrest alarmed O’Hara as much as it did was the increasing police violence at bars and clubs where gay men gathered — which culminated in the Stonewall Riots, five years after his accidental death in 1964.
O’Hara’s poetry got a boost in sales and pop-culture recognition recently, when it was prominently featured in the Season Two premiere of Mad Men. Don Draper reads from Meditations In An Emergency’s “Mayakovsky”:
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
I don’t know why I always think of this mode of literature in terms of media history. Maybe that’s just the way I think. Or it’s O’Hara picking up the telephone, that black-and-white photo of Davis’s blood-spattered suit, Don Draper dropping his copy of a book into a suburban corner mailbox.
Elsewhere in Personism, O’Hara says, “Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies.” Maybe if he were writing today, he might say, “only ___ and ___ and ___ are better than playing video games.”
His poem “Lines for the Fortune Cookies” shows O’Hara would have completely understood (and ruled at) Twitter. Here are just three samples (all well under the character limit):
Your walk has a musical quality which will bring you fame and fortune.
You may be a hit uptown, but downtown you’re legendary!
You are a prisoner in a croissant factory and you love it.
“St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”). There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world. It also evolved into other American standards such as “The Streets of Laredo”. “The Unfortunate Rake” is about a sailor who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease. Different versions of the song expand on this theme, variations typically feature a narrator telling the story of a youth “cut down in his prime” (occasionally her prime) as a result of some morally questionable actions. For example, when the song moved to America, gambling and alcohol became common causes of the youth’s death.
The title is derived from St. James Hospital in London, a religious foundation for the treatment of leprosy. It was closed in 1532 when Henry VIII acquired the land to build St. James Palace.
The song was first collected in England in its version as “The Unfortunate Rake” by Henry Hammond by a Mr. William Cutis at Lyme Regis, Dorset in March 1906.
Part of the song’s versatility/ambiguity is that its content can also swing depending on the gender of the singer and the “baby” cut down in his/her prime.
Notable performers of this song include Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, King Oliver, Artie Shaw, Big Mama Thornton, Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Stan Kenton, Lou Rawls, The Limeliters, Bobby Bland, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, “Spider” John Koerner, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Animals, and more recently The White Stripes, the Triffids, the Stray Cats, the Tarbox Ramblers, Isobel Campbell, The Devil Makes Three and Mark Lanegan, and Tom Jones with Jools Holland. Jazz guitarists Marc Ribot and Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones have recorded instrumental versions.
Again. You could argue that the arguments we have about the cognitive effect of reading for the web are largely a replay of the upheaval surrounding mass urbanization at the turn of the century. Continuing our Metropolis theme, pull up Georg Simmel’s 1903 essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life” [PDF]. (Simmel’s German word is “Grosstadt,” which literally means “big city”; Lang deliberately used the slightly stranger, Greek-derived word to make his city feel different.) Simmel saw big cities as a tremendous economic and informational engine that fundamentally transformed human personality:
Lasting impressions, the slightness in their differences, the habituated regularity of their course and contrasts between them, consume, so to speak, less mental energy than the rapid telescoping of changing images, pronounced differences within what is grasped at a single glance, and the unexpectedness of violent stimuli. To the extent that the metropolis creates these psychological conditions - with every crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life - it creates in the sensory foundations of mental life, and in the degree of awareness necessitated by our organization as creatures dependent on differences, a deep contrast with the slower, more habitual, more smoothly flowing rhythm of the sensory-mental phase of small town and rural existence.
And cognitive scientists have actually begun empirically verifying Simmel’s armchair psychology. And whenever I read anything about the web rewiring our brains, foretelling immanent disaster, I’ve always thought, geez, people — we live in cities! Our species has evolved to survive in every climate and environment on dry land. Our brains can handle it!
But I thought of this again this morning when a 2008 Wilson Quarterly article about planner/engineer Hans Monderman, titled “The Traffic Guru,” popped up in my Twitter feed. (I can’t even remember where it came from. Who knows why older writing just begins to recirculate again? Without warning, it speaks to us more, or differently.)
The idea that made Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is that traditional traffic safety infrastructure—warning signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps, and so on—is not only often unnecessary, but can endanger those it is meant to protect…
Traffic engineers, in Monderman’s view, helped to rewrite [towns] with their signs and other devices. “In the past in our villages,” Monderman said, “you could read the street in the village as a good book.” Signs advertising a school crossing were unnecessary, because the presence of a school and children was obvious. “When you removed all the things that made people know where they were, what they were a part of, and when you changed it into a uniform world,” he argued, “then you have to explain things.”
In other words, information overload, and the substitution of knowledge for wisdom. Sound familiar?
I’ll just say I remain unconvinced. We’ve largely gotten rid of pop-up ads, flashing banners, and the <blink> tag on the web. I’m sure can trim back some of the extra text and lights in our towns and cities. We’re versatile creatures. Just give us time. Meanwhile, let’s read some more Simmel:
[These changes] reveal themselves as one of those great historical structures in which conflicting life-embracing currents find themselves with equal legitimacy. Because of this, however, regardless of whether we are sympathetic or antipathetic with their individual expressions, they transcend the sphere in which a judge-like attitude on our part is appropriate. To the extent that such forces have been integrated, with the fleeting existence of a single cell, into the root as well as the crown of the totality of historical life to which we belong - it is our task not to complain or to condone but only to understand.
They’re actually electric, but Andy Aaron’s aesthetic is all pseudo-late-Victorian:
The assumption behind modern electronics is that smaller is better. So I have set about completely re-thinking and re-building the electronic calculator using old-fashioned heavyweight switches, cranks, and levers mounted in antique chassis.
I turn out only a few Aaron Adding Machines a year. Every Aaron Adding Machine works perfectly and each is unique. I strive to have my pieces look like they are functional, utilitarian, mass-produced devices plucked from some imaginary office of another era. Perhaps the 19th century, perhaps a time that never existed.
Sorry if this post got all Boing Boing there for a second, but these calculators just look really cool.
If Gutenberg is too newfangled for you, there’s also the St John’s Bible, a hand-lettered illuminated manuscript that will set you back a cool $145,000 (and that’s 2009 dollars.) A few months earlier, Jason assembled a catalog of some unusual Bibles, including copies in Manga and Lego.
If you actually want to read the Bible, there’s the conveniently titled How to Read the Bible, by Hebrew Studies professor James Kugel, an Orthodox Jew who nonetheless dismantles most of claims of events in the Bible to be historical fact. Or if you think fresh eyes can have something more to offer than expertise, there’s Blogging the Bible, by David Plotz, who writes about each book of the Old Testament having never read the book before. And if you want to close your eyes for the scary parts, here is a list of the Bible’s greatest massacres.
If you don’t actually want to read the Bible, at least as it is, you’re in good company. Steven Johnson’s Invention of Air includes a look at Thomas Jefferson, who famously crossed out references to miracles. The translators who wrote the King James Bible just made up unicorns, all on their own. And no, the Bible Code doesn’t work either. It’s just statistical noise.
Finally, are you into data visualization? Forget those boring “beget”s, artifact of that silly oral tradition. Have we got a family tree for you!
If the telegraph was the Victorian internet, then the modern, government-run, pre-paid postal system (which didn’t come together much earlier) was the modern DARPA, or something.
The Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp of a public postal system. It was issued by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 May 1840, for use from 6 May of that year. Although all London post offices received official issues of the new stamps, other offices throughout the United Kingdom did not, instead continuing to accept postage payments in cash only for a period. Post offices in some localities, such as those in the city of Bath, began offering the stamp unofficially after 2 May.
Thomas Moore Musgrave was postmaster of Bath from 1833 until his death in 1854. He was the first person in the world ever to send a stamp. The famous May 2nd Penny Black, was posted from Bath on a letter a few days before stamps were officially allowed.
Star Wars is like nerd scripture: moral homilies, scrupulous exegesis, debates over canonicity, commentaries on commentaries, gnostic gospels, and after-the-fact revision and then purging of the source texts. But some of the secondary writing that tries to resolve the contradictions in the series (especially between the beloved original trilogy and reviled prequels) is just plain fun.
“A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope” was my introduction to this genre, and it’s still one of the best. It takes the prequels as canon, and argues for an intriguing, sinister subtext to Episode IV.
Another approach is to just reinvent the stories altogether, changing whole plot points at will. I tried my hand at this at a short-lived but wonderfully fun group site called Counterfictionals. (Scroll down for the better posts, or check the whole archive for terrific stuff by other writers on Star Trek, Batman, etc.)
At HiLobrow, Joshua Glenn maps a virtuoso cultural interpretation that I can’t summarize, except to say that it involves the use of a semiotic square and the use of the word “quatsch.”
Finally, this one comes out of the Kottke archives. Aidan Wasley argues that the whole six-part-series is “the greatest postmodern art film ever,” relentlessly self-referential, where mysterious elements like “the Force” stand in for the artifice of plot itself.
Biggers read about him in the newspaper. His real name was Chang Apana. He was born, around 1871, in Waipio, a village outside Honolulu. His mother, Chun Shee, was also born in Hawaii. People from China had settled in what were then called the Sandwich Islands, beginning in the late seventeen-seventies. Sugarcane had been cultivated in China for centuries, and the first person to grow it for sugar processing in the Sandwich Islands was a man named Wong Tze-chun, who arrived from China in 1802. Chang Jong Tong, Chang Apana’s father, probably travelled from China to Hawaii in the eighteen-sixties. In the second half of the nineteenth century, some forty-six thousand Chinese laborers made that journey. In 1866, when the sugarcane trade was booming, Mark Twain went to Hawaii to report for the Sacramento Union. “The Government sends to China for coolies and farms them out at $5 a month each for five years,” Twain wrote. When Chang Jong Tong’s five years were up, he took his wife and children and headed home, to the tiny village of Oo Sack, south of Canton…In 1881, when Chang was about ten years old, his parents sent him to Oahu, with an uncle; he never returned to China…
In the nineteen-tens, he was part of a crime-busting squad. His escapades were the stuff of legend. He was said to be as agile as a cat. Thrown from a second-floor window by a gang of dope fiends, he landed on his feet. He leaped from one rooftop to the next, like a “human fly.” When he reached for his whip, thugs scattered and miscreants wept. He once arrested forty gamblers in their lair, single-handed. He was a master of disguises. Once, patrolling a pier at dawn, disguised as a poor merchant—wearing a straw hat and stained clothes and carrying baskets of coconuts, tied to a bamboo shoulder pole—he raised the alarm on a shipment of contraband even while he was being run over by a horse and buggy, and breaking his legs. He once solved a robbery by noticing a strange thread of silk on a bedroom floor. He discovered a murderer by observing that one of the suspects, a Filipino man, had changed his muddy shoes, asking him, “Why you wear new shoes this morning?”
Warner Oland, who played Chan in most of the films, was Swedish. In yellowface, he also played Fu Manchu and other east Asian characters. In 25 years as an actor, he made 96 films, including playing lead in as many as 4 Charlie Chan films a year in the 1930s. Here, Kartina Richardson talks about his performance as the half-Chinese warlord Mr Henry Chang in Shanghai Express:
Awesome detail only for me (and literary nerds like me): Yunte Huang, a UC-Santa Barbara professor who wrote the new history of Charlie Chan, also wrote a terrific book about transpacific American literature (for some reason, everyone forgets that almost all of Moby Dick is set in the Pacific) and translated Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos into Chinese.
This Best of Kottke post was easy, because I wanted to write something about Steve Jobs over the years anyways. The kickoff is Jason’s link to a 1995 interview with Jobs for Smithsonian Magazine. It’s mostly reflective, talking about his childhood, his history with Apple and early history with NEXT and Pixar. Toy Story hadn’t come out yet, and it’s fascinating to read what could be his bluster about what the movie and company were going to do, which of course turned out to be totally true. He’s also absolutely thrilled with what NEXT was doing with graphical user interface and networked computers. Windows 95 came out four months later.
It’s a sharp contrast with his interview the next year for Wired, which is mostly about the future of computing. He’s devastated and angry about Windows, but incredibly enthusiastic about the open web.
The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That’s over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it’s going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade.
It’s like when IBM drove a lot of innovation out of the computer industry before the microprocessor came along. Eventually, Microsoft will crumble because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that happens, until there’s some fundamental technology shift, it’s just over.
The most exciting things happening today are objects and the Web. The Web is exciting for two reasons. One, it’s ubiquitous. There will be Web dial tone everywhere. And anything that’s ubiquitous gets interesting. Two, I don’t think Microsoft will figure out a way to own it. There’s going to be a lot more innovation, and that will create a place where there isn’t this dark cloud of dominance.
He also has this crystal clear vision about how the web was going to move beyond simple publishing and would be used to do commerce and create marketplaces for physical and virtual goods — a vision, which, again, turned out to be exactly right.
Two common threads in both interviews: he hates teachers’ unions, and doesn’t think technology can do anything for education. You generally see a much more libertarian, pessimistic Jobs in both of these interviews than you do today. He talks about death a lot, even though he’s still young and healthy.
Finally, I’ll link to what’s still one of my favorite looks at the future of consumer technology, Jobs and Bill Gates’s 2007 joint interview at D5 with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. (Prologue - Full Video - Transcript) It’s long to watch, but so worth it. They joke and reminisce with each other, tell stories about the early days of the computer industry, and share ideas about where things are going. (Bill Gates’s first line: “First, I just want to say: I am not Fake Steve Jobs.”)
The iPhone (announced but not released) is hot as hell, but Apple is still a much smaller company than Microsoft. Vista’s just been released and is stumbling out of the gate. Gates, unlike Jobs, is incredibly invested in trying to do something in tech to help education, and Jobs (whose Apple now has a huge education market) is mostly silent.
It’s also painfully obvious in retrospect that Jobs is talking about the expansion of the iOS into the iPod Touch, iPad (and maybe beyond) while Gates is talking about the experiments in input recognition that played into Windows 7 and the new XBox Kinect. Neither of them have any real idea what to do with TVs, but Gates actually seems to be more visionary, in part because he can afford to be less coy. It’s great. I’ve probably rewatched it four times, and you’ve never seen it, and care about this stuff at all, you should catch it.
In 1926 Fitzgerald published one of his finest stories, ”The Rich Boy,” whose narrator begins it with the words ”Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
Ten years later, at lunch with his and Fitzgerald’s editor, Max Perkins, and the critic Mary Colum, Hemingway said, ”I am getting to know the rich.” To this Colum replied, ”The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” (A. Scott Berg reports this in ”Max Perkins, Editor of Genius.”) Hemingway, who knew a good put-down when he heard one and also the fictional uses to which it could be put, promptly recycled Colum’s remark in one of his best stories, with a revealing alteration: he replaced himself with Fitzgerald as the one put down. The central character in ”The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remembers ”poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of [ the rich ] and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, yes, they have more money.”
World-class athletes, though, really do seem to be different from you and me, and not just because they have better physical skills and (some of them) more money. We act shocked when athletes we think we understand, like LeBron James or Tiger Woods, surprise us with their behavior, or when a great player like Isiah Thomas degenerates into a complete lunatic once he’s off the court. (Sorry, Knicks fans.)
The strangeness (and unbelievable abilities) of top athletes is the theme of David Foster Wallace’s 1995 essay “The String Theory,” about the lower rungs of pro tennis:
Americans revere athletic excellence, competitive success, and it’s more than lip service we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll pay large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.
But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush cliches about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.
This willful ignorance breaks down when 1) an athlete is sufficiently famous and dominant that we expect more from him, 2) an athlete suddenly fails to succeed, 3) an athlete allows those idiosyncrasies out more than is necessary, 4) an athlete’s competing in a sport that we don’t understand well or follow closely.
For instance, Michael Jordan is a great example of a top athlete who never broke character, whose talents never let us down (that stint with the Wizards being apocryphal, and best ignored), and won at the highest level in a widely followed sport. Yet by all accounts, he was a hypercompetitive, gambling-addicted sociopath. In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons offers my favorite take on Jordan:
Chuck Klosterman pointed this out on my podcast once: for whatever reason, we react to every after-the-fact story about Michael Jordan’s legendary competitiveness like it’s the coolest thing ever. He pistol-whipped Brad Sellers in the shower once? Awesome! He slipped a roofie into Barkley’s martini before Game 5 of the ‘93 Finals? Cunning! But really, Jordan’s competitiveness was pathological. He obsessed over winning to the point that it was creepy. He challenged teammates and antagonized them to the point that it became detrimental. Only during his last three Chicago years did he find an acceptable, Russell-like balance as a competitor, teammate, and person.
And still, nearly everyone agrees (and I do too) that this made Jordan the best basketball player, certainly better than Shaq and Wilt and (so far) LeBron, who just had different pathologies.
[A] leprechaun-faced, sparkle-eyed freestyling daredevil who did things on sketchily self-constructed ramps in his tweenage backyard (“he’s this shady little kid from Oklahoma just blasting,” recalls one former pro from that era) that no one else in the sport had even conceived of. Hoffman was so instant a splash that in his first sanctioned competition he took first in the amateur bracket, turned pro on the spot, and then went on to win first place in that class as well. By the next day he had 15 sponsors lined up.
But while the retrospective into Hoffman’s game-changing theatrics appears on the surface a delish amuse-bouche for the X Games, it also may cause a few viewers to choke. He nails 900s, yes, but he also breaks over 300 bones. He flies high, but then he lays low. Like, in a coma-type low. As one friend of Hoffman says in the film, describing his jumps off an ever-heightening ramp: “It would go from this beautiful soaring thing to a violent crash so suddenly. We’d be like, ‘is he dead?’…
It’s easy to see films like these and lament the death-defying choices of men who have families and children, to judge them harshly for their inability to say no, but I wonder sometimes what the alternative is. Some people are simply hard-wired this way. (It’s almost too perfect that Hoffman had a dear friendship with Evel Knievel.)
Tony Hawk understands, saying: “That’s who we are! We love it too much to hang it up. I hate when people ask me that: ‘When are you hanging it up?’ Like, if I’m standing on my own two feet? I’m riding a skateboard.”
You can’t watch the footage of Hoffman as a young kid and not see that he’s different, that he can’t not do these things. “I just kick my feet,” he tells one professional rider who asks how he pulls off an impossible move, sounding like some kind of Will Hunting savant. He talks about lying in bed dreaming about how to build higher ramps. “That’s the fabric of who Mat is,” says one friend. Who are we to tell him to change?
Add in the fact that Hoffman suffered his most life-threatening injuries trying to perform for TV audiences for ESPN and The Wide Word of Sports, and it’s hard to see exactly what the difference is between him and football players or boxers suffering one concussion (or some other major injury) after another, sometimes dying on the field or in the ring, in far too many cases dying too young.
The one difference between Hoffman and the others is that he didn’t make fans feel betrayed by a celebrity like LeBron, he wasn’t easily ignored like Wallace’s low-level tennis pros fighting it out in the qualies just to make a living, and he didn’t entertain a gigantic audience for more than a decade like Michael Jordan or Muhammed Ali.
We are all witnesses.
Update: Reader Nick pointed out that the first version of this post implied that Hoffman’s career was significantly shorter than Jordan’s or Ali’s; the contrast I was trying to draw was between the allowances most of us make for athletes in “major” sports versus those in “extreme” competition, especially when the former are just as dangerous and personality-specific as the latter, if not more so.
It also reminded me, faintly but insistently, of this classic video of Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers, from the movie Stormy Weather. (What is it with economic depression => dancing in tuxedos?)
I still think this is the easily most amazing display of deliberate human physicality in dance I’ve ever seen. Maybe anywhere. (Hit Twitter at @kottke or @tcarmody if you think you’ve got a better candidate.)
I think I like the visual approach of the second site better — I mean, who doesn’t love repurposed periodic tables? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But the sheer variety, eclecticism, and particularity of visualization methods on display at the Milestones site is hard to beat, including EEGs, the invention of the Cartesian coordinate plane, the USA Today weather map, and other things you might not immediately think of when you think of data visualization.
Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of “Metropolis” to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there. Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel Pena Rodriguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s Pena Rodriguez sold the film reels to Argentina’s National Art Fund - clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels. A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula Felix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken. Together, Paula Felix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive - and discovered the missing scenes.
I wrote a chapter of my dissertation about Lang, so I was pretty familiar with how the film had been hacked and mangled. Early cinema was a lot like the early years of print books. No two extant copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio are exactly the same, because the printer made small changes and corrected errors before finishing each one. Likewise, filmmakers and producers made edits on the fly, and different countries, and sometimes different theater owners, would recut prints to suit their taste. Without an original master print, most early movies have been restored, screened, and transferred to disc in versions cobbled together from various sources, in most cases still quite different from what was initially shown to the public. Metropolis was really only different in that we knew most of the content of the scenes that had been cut.
If you haven’t seen Metropolis this summer, you may have seen Inception, another science-fiction movie featuring corporate intrigue, a sentimental subplot, and a setting consisting of multiple levels of a highly allegorical dreamlike city. Annalee Newitz goes deeper, finding subtle affinities with the dream-city of Inception and another Metropolis, the utopian city imagined by King Camp Gillette, who woud go on to invent the safety razor.
Gillette wanted to solve the problem of social inequality with his perfect city, which he named Metropolis. The city, which he outlines in his book The Human Drift, would be built on top of Niagara Falls. Gillette wanted to Nikola Tesla design a water-powered electrical grid, which would be amply supplied with energy from the falls.
The sidewalks of the city would be transparent so that workers laboring beneath the buildings, dealing with plumbing and other infrastructure, would have light. But Gillette also wanted the city’s residents to see the people at work below their feet. The idea was to prevent people from forgetting about all the essential work that goes into making a city run.
Freud compared the unconscious to a city:
Now let us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long past—an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.
And in The Human Drift, King Gillette talks about a city’s economy like the unconscious, too, and panics and depressions like a neurosis:
Never in the history of the world has business been organized as a whole in any country. It has always been a tangled skein beyond the power of man to unravel. It has been impossible to regulate supply and demand within reasonable limit, simply because every man is for himself, and he never knows what the rest of the world is doing. As a result, we have a constant fluctuation in prices of articles of consumption. At one time the whole country is overstocked with certain lines of goods, and there is a depression of prices. Then the manufacturers shut down or restrict the output, and the next thing we hear is that the whole country is short of these goods. It is here that the institution of speculation, or gambling in necessities, has its birth; and this lack of knowledge and power to regulate supply and demand, is, in part, the cause of our periods of depression and failure.
The solution, in both cases, is to become aware of those subterranean, unknown forces, and bring them into consciousness.
Finally, and less depressingly, there’s Janelle Monae, whose terrific album The ArchAndroid, is part of a suite titled Metropolis, which also creates a kind of imagined not-quite-retro-future that tries to touch on the uneasiness in culture.
Any of the video games that you might play on a console are sitting on a mountain of annually released, highly popular, reliably profitable sports games. The internet, too, and Twitter and newspapers and radio and broadcast and cable television all sit on a mountain of sports chatter and sports programming. (The internet, in turn, sits on a mountain of porn.)
This makes it surprising you don’t see more examples of thoughtful, detailed sports + culture + tech + gaming long-form writing like Patrick Hruby’s article “The Franchise,” on the history of the Madden NFL series for ESPN’s Outside the Lines..
You can measure the impact of “Madden” through its sales: as many as 2 million copies in a single week, 85 million copies since the game’s inception and more than $3 billion in total revenue. You can chart the game’s ascent, shoulder to shoulder, alongside the $20 billion-a-year video game industry.
The Madden games had to overcome technological breakthroughs — remember how the original Tecmo Bowl only gave you nine players on each side, so the screen wouldn’t slow down with too many moving objects? And both offense and defense chose from the same four plays, turning the whole thing into a slightly expanded simulation of Prisoner’s Dilemma? Yeah. Madden didn’t do any of that. And that’s because Madden himself insisted on it, the console processing improved (especially moving to 16-bit), and the programming guys figured out a way to do it.
The essay also argues that Madden was a cultural breakthrough in the way games were perceived. At the same time that games were moving from a freewheeling arcade style to a more rigidly statistical, differentiated, and realistic simulation approach — in other words, when they way games were made became less artsy and more nerdly — they moved from a hardcore audience that was perceived to be composed of loser nerds and became the casual gaming of jocks, teenagers, college kids, even professional athletes.
In 1990, EA had a market cap of about $60 million; three years later, that number swelled to $2 billion.
More crucially, video games were suddenly cool, the province of older teens and college kids, young men who loved competition and talking smack. Escaping the geek world, gaming set course for the center of the pop culture sun.
“Before ‘Madden,’ jocks did not play video games,” Hilleman said. “Somebody playing games was more likely to get made fun of on ESPN than get featured on there.”
I don’t know whether the perceived demographic shift is true. Let’s just say that this generation of sports games helped jocks embrace their inner, statistical/strategic nerds and helped nerds and losers posture with one another and channel their inner jocks.
You know how I was just hating on linear, narrative storytelling? This is the opposite, the color negative of that position, that shows a different kind of value. Here, Hruby tracks how the innovative Madden franchise became slower under the weight of its own legend. Seasoned players didn’t like new interfaces. The NFL used its licensing agreement to dictate and prohibit content. The attention to detail on the minutiae of player apparel grew and grew, as fans and NFL players paid attention and complained about omissions.
If you want to know how gaming, tech, sports, and geek culture, particularly for men — there’s no discussion at all of female gamers, or even a single woman who appears in the narrative in any way — came to be the way it is today, a field guide to Madden history is a worthy beginning.
I know some of you probably miss Jason. I miss him too. So I rooted around in the boxes he keeps in the garage to find stuff that probably meant a lot to him and gathered it together to share with you.
Do you remember how in the 1980s, on The Tonight Show when Johnny wasn’t hosting, and Jay Leno or Garry Shandling or whoever wasn’t pitching in, they’d show a rerun with little clips of Johnny and Ed McMahon’s voice gravely intoning “The Best of Carson”? That was as close as you got to YouTube back then. This is kind of like that.
This box from Jason’s garage is marked August 2005. I’m going to try to do this once each day while I’m guest-hosting this week. And I feel that I’m on solid ground here, since my favorite Kottke post that month is “Looking backward at the future,” a collection of long-past predictions of the future, little time capsules to open up and re-examine. Another, The present future, challenges readers to imagine the future of the web without using the following words:
Ajax, web services, weblogs, Google, del.icio.us, Flickr, folksonomy, tags, hacks, podcasting, wikis, bottom-up, RSS, citizen journalism, mobile, TiVo, the Long Tail, and convergence.
Terrific, revealing stuff in the comments on that one.
It’s a subtle change, but in a lot of ways it’s a return for me to an older style of blogging: link-dense, off-the-cuff, linking for subtext and not reference (a practice pioneered by Suck). Not having to limit myself to one link (as with the old style of remaindered link) or feel like I need to write something of substance to justify a post with a title and it’s own archive page (as with my main posts…it’s kind of amazing how post titles and individual archives have made blog posts seem more like magazine or newspaper articles than, well, blog posts) has been great. There was a missing intermediate baby bear sort of post that was difficult for me to do easily and on a regular basis. With this switch, it’s just right.
I think I’m still stuck on justifying the title, but Jason’s practice definitely influenced the way I strung together multiple ideas into little constellations. Also, weird how the pull/comment + link style has been resurrected on Twitter.
Adding titles to posts (even shorter ones, eventually, got titles back) and largely moving away from comments changed how the site worked too — see “A little less conversation and a little more philosophical voyeurism.” (Psst — that title puns on an Elvis song that was remixed and re-released and became popular in 2002. See how you forget these things?) We’re still trying to figure out how comments on blogs are supposed to work. Maybe blogs have become more like a magazine, but a hyperconnected one. Magazines have definitely become more like blogs.
The Aristocrats, which was culturally huge, is (I think) mostly forgotten. The Wedding Crashers has fared better, helping kick off a spree of neo-Caddyshack comedies. Anchorman, released the year before, only got one star from Jason (without review) has probably become better-remembered and more indicative of contemporary comedy than either of them.
It might seem navel-gazing (even if it isn’t my navel), but sometimes I think flattening out history (even if it’s the history of a blog) — looking at everything simultaneously rather than following a narrative of how one big thing changed — tells you more than you’d think, by making everything seem less familiar, and much less inevitable.
Okay, I’ll chase ONE new story today. But it’s about this fundamental problem of converting old media objects into new ones, and I get to dig up some old blog posts too, I feel like I’m still in character.
Google’s counting method relies entirely on its enormous metadata collection—almost one billion records—which it winnows down by throwing out duplicates and non-book items like CDs. The result is a book count that’s arrived at by a kind of process of elimination. It’s not so much that Google starts with a fixed definition of “book” and then combs its records to identify objects with those characteristics; rather, the GBS algorithm seeks to identify everything that is clearly not a book, and to reject all those entries. It also looks for collections of records that all identify the same edition of the same book, but that are, for whatever reason (often a data entry error), listed differently in the different metadata collections that Google subscribes to.
But the problem with Google’s count, as is clear from the GBS count post itself, is that GBS’s metadata collection is a riddled with errors of every sort. Or, as linguist and GBS critic Geoff Nunberg put it last year in a blog post, Google’s metadata is “train wreck: a mish-mash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess.”
It’s not just Google that has a problem. I wrote a post for Wired.com last week (“Why Metadata Matters for the Future of E-books”) about how increased reliance on metadata was affecting publishers of new books, who also depend heavily on digital search — and generally how bibliographic and legal arcana around e-books affects what we see and how we come to see it more than you’d think.
But I wish I’d added Google’s woeful records to the piece. It’s not like I didn’t know about it; here’s the title of a post I wrote a year ago, also citing Nunberg’s post when it first appeared at Language Log: “Scholars to Google: Your Metadata Sucks”.
Speaking of historical figures we can only perceive dimly, cartoonist/historicaster (let’s rehabilitate this word, please) Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant adds a thoughtful, searching comment to a short series of cartoons about Andrew Jackson:
Ah, Andrew Jackson. Love him or hate him (and these days my money is on the latter), you can’t deny that he was a fascinating man. He did some good things. He did a lot of bad things. And it’s not like in his time, no one thought to duke it out with him over it all. The man had so many musket balls in his body you could stick magnets to him…
He did what he thought was good and right to do and he made himself something out of nothing, but he was a hard, racist man, and he doesn’t get to be a hero anymore. In a way I am glad that he’s such a conflicting figure, because most of the time you can’t have it one way or the other. Not all of our historical leaders deserve Nobel Peace Prizes decorating their houses, not all of our heroes get recognized for the wrongs they did like Jackson does.
Electro-acoustic sample wizards The Books have a new album out, and they have a Tumblr that annotates each track. “A Wonderful Phrase By Gandhi” includes a sample of the Mahatma’s voice from a 1931 gramophone recording.
Mostly I think of this track as a P.S.A. Everyone should know what Gandhi’s voice sounds like; it’s timbre communicates so much regardless of what he’s saying, if we can help spread it in our small way it seems worth the 18 seconds.
Nick Zammuto goes on to compare Gandhi’s voice to Einstein’s, whose voice graces a track on the band’s second album. This comparison, and the scarcity of fair-quality recordings of Gandhi’s voice, made me realize how important our memory of an historical figure’s voice can become. Try to imagine FDR, Martin Luther King Jr, or Hitler without thinking of their voice. Yet we don’t know what Lincoln sounded like, or Napoleon, let alone Confucius or Cicero.
Cordoba is a city in southern Spain that was capital of the Umayyad caliphate of the same name during the Middle Ages. In the tenth century, it passed Baghdad the largest city in Islam and may have been the largest in the world.
Cordoba House is the name of a proposed complex on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site, sometimes called the “ground-zero mosque.”
Notice how carefully he’s phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they’d just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they’ve done it before, they’ll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don’t band together to stop them.
The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. Three hundred years. The Muslims conquered Cordoba in 712. The Christian church that was later transformed into the Great Mosque of Cordoba apparently continued hosting Christian worship for at least a generation after that. Work on the Mosque didn’t actually begin until seventy-odd years later in 784, and the mosque only became “the world’s third-largest” late in the tenth century, after a series of expansions by much later rulers, probably around 987 or so.
The Great Mosque was actually built to commemorate the defeat of the Abbasids, the Umayyad’s rivals for control of Andalusia. Joint worship emphasized the legitimacy of the Cordoban caliphate and its superiority to the rowdy Abbasids. “Far from ‘symboliz[ing] their victory’,” Pyrdum writes, “the Mosque was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful coexistence with the Christians—however messier the actual relations of Christians and Muslims were at the time.” Before the Christians, the site hosted ruins of a Roman pagan temple.
Pyrdum’s post was picked up by Crooked Timber, the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, and other popular sites and worked its way up from there. On Twitter, David Weinberger wrote: “It’s why we have blogs, people.”
Imagine a newspaper or television station reporting on this story twenty years ago; if they had thought to fact-check Newt’s talking point, they would have either sent a researcher to the library or phoned an historical or Islamic studies expert for comment. Then it may have been cut for space or time. That’s not how things work any more. Knowledge floats.
This week, with your help, I’m going to try an experiment in service of an idea.
Most popular blogs, like most popular media, regardless of genre, spend 99.9% of their time reacting to and arguing about something that’s just happened, or is about to (maybe) happen. Jason’s aesthetic has always been different, because he’s always been just as excited about older things that have just been uncovered or rediscovered, marvelous objects and ideas in weird corners of the web that nobody’s paid attention to, or that have only just made the transition from analog to digital to become part of the web conversation.
Last year, I called this approach “paleoblogging.” Like paleontologists, paleobiologists, paleographers, and paleoarcheologists, Paleobloggers dig up blogworthy material from the past to see what makes it tick. It’s different from “slow blogging,” which you might have heard about; as far as I can tell, that just promotes taking a really long time to write posts that maybe nobody reads. There’s nothing slow or private about paleoblogging. The whole point is to work the archive, work your sources, take what’s still and get it moving again.
So this week will be devoted to things you’ve either forgotten about or have never seen before. I’ll be highlighting posts, articles, and projects that do this well wherever I see them, and rummaging through some dusty card catalogues myself (including some right here at kottke.org) to find things that deserve to be back in circulation.
I’m off for another week — the summer sun is just too tempting, as is another project I’m working on — so I’ve asked Tim Carmody to fill the editor’s seat for me. Tim is one leg of the Snarkmarket tripod; he was a frequent commenter on the site and the two founding members, instead of saying jeez, guy, shuddup already with the comments, invited Tim to join them full-time. Tim is also an academic with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, which is a lot more book learnin’ than I’ve ever had. Things are probably going to be a lot more grammatically correct around here this week. Welcome, Tim.
And a big thanks to Aaron Cohen for helming the site last week (and through the weekend even, a rare occurrence around these parts). I don’t know where this ranks on Aaron’s list of life accomplishments, but my 11-yo self would be super impressed that Who’s the Boss’s Samantha Micelli retweeted not one but two Cohen-penned kottke.org posts from the past week (after explaining the definitions of “post” and “retweet” to tweener Kottke).
I like cover songs. It’s interesting to hear another take on a favorite song. The ones I especially like are covers by bands in a completely different style. A good cover song will add to your enjoyment of the originally, and sometimes let you hear things you didn’t hear before. Wilco’s ‘I am Trying to Break Your Heart” by J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound and The Clash’s Train in Vain by Annie Lennox are two that come to mind. I’ve also got a soft spot for acoustic versions of punk songs, but that list could go on a while, so just let the two above take you through Sunday night. Enjoy!
Jamon Iberico, the so-called “best ham in the world”, is made from a breed of pig that has been raised in Spain for 10,000 years. Fear of disease made it unavailable in the US until 2006, when one Spanish importer was finally approved. (An American company, La Quercia in Iowa, is also making waves, though purists will argue…)
In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors exploring the new world would drop off pigs in the interest of creating a food source should they ever come back around that way again. These pigs were direct descendants of Iberian pigs, but as America settled, these pigs were passed over in favor of pigs easier to raise in captivity. Except for on Ossabaw Island, GA, where the breed remained mostly pure for 400 years. However, since pigs are about as destructive a breed as you can introduce into an ecosystem, Georgia has been working to cull the population on Ossabaw Island since 2000.
Thanks to the efforts of “hamthropologist” Peter Kaminsky, a few small farms in North Carolina are now raising Ossabaw pigs, and working to keep the breed alive. The Ossabaws suffer from insular dwarfism, making the pigs smaller, and low-grade diabetes caused by an advanced fat-storing tendency, but Kaminsky says the meat is a close approximation.
I guess this went around last year, but somehow, I completely missed it. I’m visiting with two English professors this weekend, and apparently this video caused something of a stir in the department. “If you knocked your brother down, would you urinate in his mouth?” is an age-old question, used for generations as a writing exercise. Or something.
When trying to prompt creative writing, why would you ask a yes/no question?
What were the other 12-13 questions on this exercise?
Watch out for the mustachioed Superintendent, as it is his honor to take you through this night.
The Guardian has the famous last words of 10 authors. As I am fundamentally opposed to lists in slide show format, especially lists with one list item per slide, the quotations are below. Click through to see the pictures. The chance all of these last words are 100% accurate is something much less than 100%. Points to the Guardian for including 2 women on this list. A lot of lists like this would be male-only.
Samuel Johnson - ‘Iam moriturus’ (I who am about to die) Lord Byron - ‘Come, come, no weakness; let’s be a man to the last!’ Emily Dickinson - ‘I must go in, the fog is rising’ Robert Louis Stevenson - ‘What’s that? Do I look strange?’ Anton Chekhov - ‘It’s a long time since I drank champagne’ Mark Twain - ‘Death, the only immortal, who treats us alike, whose peace and refuge are for all. The soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved’ Leo Tolstoy - ‘We all reveal … our manifestations … This manifestation is over … That’s all’ Franz Kafka - ‘Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, (is) to be burned unread’ Virginia Woolf - ‘I feel certain that I’m going mad again …’ James Joyce - ‘Does nobody understand?’
I’ve been meaning to post these since the beginning of the week. Here’s Ezequiel Calvente’s penalty kick for Spain from a U19 game against Italy. He runs up to kick with his right foot, but just before making the kick, Calvente pushes the ball into the other side of the goal with his left foot. Fantastic.
And a bonus amazing sports play. Spiderman in center field.
Here’s a great story of Jami getting her bike stolen last night in Brooklyn. Wait, why is that great? Because, thanks to some internet sleuthing, a lot of luck (!!!), and solid police work from Brooklyn’s finest, she had it back by 11:30 this morning!
While we’re on the subject of bikes, according to a recently filed patent, Apple is looking at making a smart bike. I look to the future and I see 1) Consternation that Apple has signed an exclusive agreement to release the bike on Trek frames only for a period of 3, 4, or 5 years depending on which rumor you believe. 2) Several media stories crediting Apple for popularizing the riding of bikes. 3) Several media stories criticizing Apple for claiming they popularized the riding of bikes, even if they didn’t.make that claim, 4) Much rejoicing 3 weeks after release of the bike when someone has figure d out how to jail break the phone into a fixed gear. 5) 250 posts from John Gruber refudiating predictions of iBike failure. I look forward to all of it.
Lastly, on the topic of bikes. My friend Chris Piascik is drawing all the bikes he’s ever owned. This wouldn’t be a big deal for most people, Chris, however, has owned a gazillion bikes. The drawings are accompanied by vignettes on the bikes and I think the project will end up being more of a memoir than Chris originally anticipated. (Disclosure: If I had to name a favorite artist, it’d probably be Chris, and I post his art often on UW.)
This very long and very fascinating profile of Abd el-Kader is the best long form article you’ll read today, and possibly this week. It was written by a blogger who focuses primarily on the Kansas City Royals (what?). This kind of surprise, a baseball writer stretching out to produce something this special, is one of the things I love about the internet.
Elkader, Iowa, by the way, was founded and named after el-Kader. el-Kader is the only Arab to be so honored.
A new study by the Boston Fed reports on the impact of credit card interchange fees on the prices we pay to merchants. Credit card interchange fees are the 1%-2% charges paid by merchants on credit card transactions. Because almost all merchants charge the same price for cash and credit card purchases, people paying cash end up paying a little bit more, while people paying with credit cards end up paying a little bit less.
On average, each cash-using household pays $151 to card-using households and each card-using household receives $1,482 from cash users every year. Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks, the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $23 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $756 every year.
…From the past. It doesn’t take much to look at this book and imagine the pitch meeting at how Sterling Cooper Draper Price would pitch this.
In 1964 United States Steel called upon the nation’s electric utility companies to reconsider the current look of our power stations and transmission towers to be both functional and beautiful. Two years later, Henry Dreyfuss and Associates were commissioned to investigate possible design alternatives, and I believe they were documented in a book entitled “Power Styling” which was produced by United States Steel in the mid-to-late 1960s.
Things I learned from this article about a Thomas’ English muffin executive who wants to take a new job with Hostess Foods.
Only seven people “worldwide…know the recipe and manufacturing process that give Thomas’ English muffins their trademark ‘nooks and crannies’.”
Thomas’ English muffins’ parent company is named Bimbo USA.
Bimbo USA is a Division of a Mexican conglomerate called Grupo Bimbo.
English muffins, not found in England, are an American invention now sold by a Mexican company. Still completely delicious, though.
Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom, as Ghost of a Dream, create artstructuresculptures out of scratch tickets to show “unfulfilled dreams as well as money that could have been saved and possibly spent on the item itself”. “Dream Car” uses $39K worth of discarded tickets, and “Dream Home” uses $70K. That one’s really nice.
For what it’s worth, Was and Eckstrom aren’t the first to see art in scratch tickets. Rebecca Simering has explored the medium, as has the “I Love My Life The Way It Is” project. ILMLTWII is a project I want to believe in, but before sending scratch tickets to strangers in England, you should be aware of the risks.
Last time dad left me the keys to the Cadillac, I posted this skateboarding video. The Human League soundtrack paired with the fresh take on tricks is magic. There’s an appealing whimsy to that video I think you’ll like even if you don’t like skateboard videos. Here’s some more from Tim and Eric (the other ones) along the same lines.
Also, Fred sent this over last time around. It gets pretty crazy almost immediately, but there’s the same kind of fun involved.
Update: Thanks to a tip from Joseph, I did some digging and found that the title of his Albion College lecture was not unique. A lot of the lectures Vonnegut gave were titled, “How to Get a Job Like Mine”, during which, he would talk about whatever he wanted. Here’s a write up I found of the lecture Joseph remembered from Tufts in 2002. I saw Vonnegut speak sometime in the mid-90s, but I have no idea what the lecture was called.
The number of states with an adult obesity rate of 30 percent or more has tripled, to nine, since 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report today. Mississippi had the highest rate, 34 percent. About 75 million Americans are considered obese, the Atlanta-based CDC said.
Sports Illustrated is out with its list of 50 highest paid AMERICAN athletes. (This distinction is important because there’s also an international list.) I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the list, but there were several ‘huh’ moments. For instance, close your eyes. Close them. Now picture the 3rd highest paid athlete on the planet. What sport is he playing? If you said boxing, you’re right. Floyd Mayweather made $60m last year. I’m curious if I were to make a list of the 50 highest paid American athletes how many of these names I would have come up with.
$28,847,406 separates #1 Tiger Woods ($90m) from #2 Phil Mickelson.
$73,733,163 separates Tiger from #50 A.J. Burnett.
Shaq still makes more than Kobe, which must really bug Kobe.
#2 highest paid QB is Matthew Stafford, who is the 2nd year QB of the Lions.
#28 Darrius Heyward-Bey is the first player I hadn’t heard of on the list.
There are 15 football players on this list, not one of whom is Tom Brady or Drew Brees.
Maria Sharapova is the only woman on either list, #20 on the international list with around $19m.
There is an international list, which is filthy with soccer players and Formula 1 drivers. For some reason non-American athletes (Ichiro, Pau Gasol) that play in the US are on the international list.
If William Shatner did this interaction spoken-word style, well, that would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? Need something to take you through the night? Let it be this video of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy discussing the theft of Nimoy’s bike. By Shatner.
In an announcement on the Google Blog, Urs Hoelzle eulogizes Google Wave. The site will be live through the end of the year, and Google is going to try to move the technology to other projects. Personally, I tried to use Google Wave a couple times, but was never really able to get used to it. It was hard!
But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.
This was going to be a separate post, but what the hey. For those of you concerned or curious about the amount of data Google’s getting on you, Jamie Wilkinson has put together a Firefox add-on that will alert you audibly and visually whenever your information is being sent to Google.
Punk: While “punk” was once (and still, occasionally) catch-all slang for a young delinquent, “punk rock” first appeared in a 1970 Chicago Tribune article, uttered by Ed Sanders of The Fugs. Although the band was one of punk’s immediate ancestors, Sanders went on to define the term as “redneck sentimentality.” The next year, Dave Marsh of Creem used “punk rock” to describe ? and the Mysterians. Its meaning evolved from there, originally encompassing a slew of Nuggets-era garage-rock bands and eventually solidifying into a more rigid description of the mid-’70s bands we think of as “punk.”
Comedian Jon Gnarr recently won election as mayor of Reykjavik and has already gotten to work on his campaign promises of free towels at public swimming pools and a drug-free Parliament by 2020. Gnarr founded the The Best Party late last year, and other Best Party candidates, including members of the Reykjavik punk rock community, won 6 of the 15 seats on the City Council. The best part of all is that Gnarr “needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of ‘The Wire’.” That seems like sound policy to me.
On The Best Party, Gnarr has this to say:
No one has to be afraid of the Best Party, because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.
While I felt that it was important to show certain shapes aboveground, I also felt that it was important to leave out certain pieces of belowground information. There are several places where the subway tunnels cross and overlap each other beneath the surface. This may be important information for city workers or utility companies trying to make repairs, but for the average commuter, showing these interactions just creates visual noise. I tried to reduce that noise by cleanly separating the lines on the map so they don’t overlap. Consider the different depictions of the 4 line and the 5 line in the Bronx; sure, the MTA’s paths may be accurate, but they’re also confusing, and riders don’t really need to see those particular details to understand where they’re going.
Tom Junod, in Esquire, tells the story of living on top of an Argentine Ant colony. In it, we learn that ant scientists estimate there are 1.6 million ants per person. For what it’s worth, ant colony is in the top 3 of my “List of things I do not want to live on top of”. I urge you not to click this link if you’re the type of person who can see an ant hill on a walk and then spend the next four hours feeling phantom ants on your legs and elbows.
They’re not just passing through, you see, on their way to somewhere else. They’re not in your underwear by accident. They’re nation-building.
I’ve now given myself the heebie-jeebies and will spend the next four hours brushing away every gasp of wind and brush of paper against my skin. Thank you.
whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy.com is certainly a veritable and powerful social media strategy generator for any business. If you need a social media strategy, you should start here before interviewing folks. You know, to make yourself conversant in the lingo. That said:
Wikipedia has a page dedicated to controversial album art, which I found recently while looking up background on the 23rd birthday of Appetite for Destruction (yipe).
Eric Bana - Out of Bounds (1994)
The cover art features Bana naked from behind while streaking at a crowded AFL game. He is reaching for the ball and his buttocks are covered with the message “contents may offend”. The scene was created digitally, with the overlap of two photos. An alternative cover for the album was later released.
I was really hoping Eric Bana had a musical release in his background because musical releases by actors are usually hilarious, but this one appears to be comedy. Sigh.
You may have heard recently that Kanye West’s Twitter account is really something special. If you heard that, it’s true. If not, you’re hearing it now. Paul and Storm and Josh A. Cagan have made Kanye’s Tweets even better, though, by matching them with New Yorker Cartoons. Scroll through their Twitter feeds and you’ll find gold.
The percentage of Americans who drink is up a bit this year (67%) from last year, and is at its highest level since 1985. Another fact: Since 1992, beer has been the most popular alcohol (though down slightly this year) every year except 2005, when the most popular drink was wine. Dollars to doughnuts it was Sideways that caused that.
A Russian man has come forward with his collection of CPUs, which could be the largest in the world. The collection consists of vintage Soviet CPUs, as well as several newer models. I’m a little out of my comfort zone with this one, and it’s completely possible this is a hoax. If so, it’s worth it just for the picture of the dude in a muscle shirt displaying his collection. Click through and tell me it’s not.
This is the type of video you’ll see the title of and just skip right through in your hurry to clear your RSS reader. Sure, you could do that with this video, but it’d be a mistake. Mary Carillo’s rant is going to take someone through the night, it may as well be you.
I’m sure there are more of these, vagaries of science we learned as children ripped cruelly from our pathways in an effort to embarrass us in front of our children (well, your children, mine are imaginary). Let’s make a list? Hit me with an @reply if you know of something that should be on this list.
This post didn’t quite come out the way I wanted. The triceratops was only momentarily in danger as scientists decided to do away with the Torosaurus instead. Also, Jason wrote a post about a similar topic a couple months ago. Mesofacts are the name for facts that change slowly over time. It’s an important distinction, though, that these ‘facts’, Pluto and Brontosaurus, at least, were ripped away suddenly, instead of changing slowly over time. The only Twitter suggestion I thought fit completely was the loss of RBI as a telling baseball statistic.
Lindsay Lohan is out of jail today and thus ends my favorite part of the internet for the past 3 weeks. Dear Lindsay Lohan will not be updated anymore, but the previously written postcards will remain as letters to posterity.
Smoothie shop Jamba Juice is responding to McDonald’s jump into the smoothie market with a mock campaign selling a smooth and creamy cheeseburger smoothies. The video is a nice touch.
Somewhat related to this story, the large McDonald’s smoothies have more calories than a cheeseburger. But it’s the good kind of calories. Now all I want to know is if the smoothie cheeseburger has more calories than either the regular cheeseburger or the fruit smoothie.
The new menu at Alinea is 21 courses long and takes about 2.5 hours for a meal according to a Tweet by Alinea chef Grant Achatz. In June, Alinea announced they would only be offering one menu, down from two, though that menu was discussed as 15-16 courses.
“So here’s some advice I wish I would have got when I was your age… Live every week like it’s shark week.” - Tracy Jordan
In its 24th year, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is really coming into its own on the internet. At least on the meme-filled internet of Tumblr/Twitter/Reddit etc. Add in the clever guerrilla marketing of having sharks appear off the coast of Cape Cod and NJ this past week, and you’ve got the makings of a media phenomenon I can hardly bear.
In case you missed it on Friday, NBC announced that the October 14th episode of 30 Rock will be performed live. In fact, they’ll be performing 2 shows, one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast. (Pro tip: Air the opposite coast’s episode before the next week’s show.) I am, of course, excited to see the Tracy Morgan/Tracy Jordan combo live.
Incidentally, the Wikipedia entry for Live Television is jam packed with interesting nuggets such as an incomplete list of notable live television episodes (West Wing, 2005. ER, 1997). Also, the last scripted series to “do it live” regularly was Roc in 1992.
I am off this week and cajoled Aaron Cohen from Unlikely Words into filling in for me again on kottke.org. Aaron said that he was going to upload some interpretive dance video of what he thinks I’m doing on vacation but let’s hope he just shares what he finds interesting on the internet (that includes Gopher!) this week instead.