kottke.org posts about books
Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.
Not everybody gives their computers, smartphones, or wireless networks distinctive names. You're more likely to see a thousand public networks named "Belkin" or some alphanumeric gibberish than one named after somebody's favorite character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
But many, many people do name their machines -- and ever since we slid into the post-PC era, we're more likely to have a bunch of different machines of every different type living together on a network, each needing a name. So, how do you decide what to call them? Do you just pick what strikes your fancy at the moment, or do you have a system?
About three years ago, I asked my friends and followers on Twitter this question and got back some terrific responses. I don't have access to all of their answers, because, well, time makes fools of us all, especially on Twitter. But I think I have the best responses.
Most people who wrote back did have unifying themes for their machines. And sweet Jesus, are those themes nerdy.
- A lot of people name their computers, networks, and hard drives after characters, places, and objects from Star Wars. Like, a lot of them.
- Even more of my friends name devices after their favorite books and writers. My favorite of these came from @DigDoug: "All of my machines are named after characters in Don Quixote. My Macbook is Dulcinea, the workhorse is Rocinante." (Note: these systems are also popular among my friends for naming their cats. I don't know what to make of that.)
- Science- and mythology-inspired names are well-represented. Mathias Crawford's hard drives are named after types of penguins; Alan Benzie went with goddesses: "The names Kali, Isis, Eris, Juno, Lilith & Hera are distributed around whatever devices and drives I have at any time." (When I first read this, I thought these might have been moons of Jupiter, which would both split the difference between science and mythology and would be a super-cool way to name your stuff.)
- Wi-fi networks might be named for places, funny phrases, or abstract entities, but when it comes to phones or laptops, most people seemed to pick persons' names. Oliver Hulland's hard drives were all named after muppets; Alex Hern named his computer's hard drive and its time capsule backup Marx and Engels, respectively.
- Some people always stuck with the same system, and sometimes even the same set of names. A new laptop would get the same name as the old laptop, and so forth -- like naming a newborn baby after a dead relative. Other people would retire names with the devices that bore them. They still refer to them by their first names, often with nostalgia and longing.
As for me, I've switched up name systems over the years, mostly as the kinds of devices on my network have changed. I used to just have a desktop PC (unnamed), so I started out by naming external hard drives after writers I liked: Zora, after Zora Neale Hurston, and then Dante. The first router I named, which I still have, is Ezra.
Years later, I named my laptop "Wallace": this is partly for David Foster Wallace, but also so I could yell "where the fuck is Wallace?!?" whenever I couldn't find it.
Without me even realizing it, that double meaning changed everything. My smartphone became "Poot." When I got a tablet, it was "Bodie." My Apple TV was "Wee-Bay," my portable external drive "Stringer." I even named my wi-fi network "D'Angelo" -- so now D'Angelo runs on Ezra, which connects to Dante, if that makes sense.
As soon as it was Wallace and Poot, the rules were established: not just characters from The Wire, but members of the Barksdale crew from the first season of The Wire. No "Bunk," no "Omar," no "Cheese." And when the machines died, their names died with them.
The first one to go, fittingly, was Wallace. I called the new machine "Cutty." I was only able to justify to myself by saying that because he was a replacement machine, it was okay to kick over to Season 3. Likewise, my Fitbit became "Slim Charles."
Now, for some reason, this naming scheme doesn't apply at all to my Kindles. My first one was "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," and its replacement is "Funes the Memorious." I have no explanation for this, other than to say that while all my other devices commingle, the Kindles seem to live in a hermetic world of their own.
Explaining Hitler is a 1998 book by Ron Rosenbaum that compiled a number of different theories about why Adolf Hitler was the way he was, updated recently with new information.
Hitler did not escape the bunker in Berlin but, seven decades later, he has managed to escape explanation in ways both frightening and profound. Explaining Hitler is an extraordinary quest, an expedition into the war zone of Hitler theories. This is a passionate, enthralling book that illuminates what Hitler explainers tell us about Hitler, about the explainers, and about ourselves.
Vice recently interviewed Rosenbaum about the book.
Oh my God, there are so many terrible psychological attempts to explain Hitler. I think the subject brings out the worst in talk show psychologists. There's a lot of 'psychopathic narcissism' among those psychologizing Hitler. The examples in my book were two psychoanalysts-one wanted to claim that Hitler became Hitler because he was beaten by his father, and the other psychoanalyst was equally determined to believe that Hitler had a malignant mother who was over-protective. As if everyone who has an over-protective mother or abusive father turns into Hitler. If everyone who has been struck by their father turned into Hitler we would be in a lot more trouble than we are.
Related by not related: Rosenbaum wrote a story in 1971 for Esquire about phone phreaking, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, which inspired the very first partnership between a pair of young future tech titans, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. (via @errolmorris)
From a pair of science historians, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, comes The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a book of science fiction about the consequences of climate change.
The year is 2393, and a senior scholar of the Second People's Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.
From Aimee Bender, an appreciation of Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, a favorite of mine to read to my kids when they were younger.
"Goodnight Moon" does two things right away: It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure. Many children's books do, particularly for this age, as kids love repetition and the books supply it. They often end as we expect, with a circling back to the start, and a fun twist. This is satisfying but it can be forgettable. Kids - people - also love depth and surprise, and "Goodnight Moon" offers both.
Haven't read Goodnight Moon in ages...at 4 and 7, my kids protest whenever I suggest it. We're currently powering our way through the third Harry Potter book, which, though I enjoy Potter, is no Goodnight Moon.
Update: How Goodnight Moon overcame bad initial reviews and became a word-of-mouth bestseller.
An extensive collection of book covers featuring books. Confused? Maybe an example will help:
I love these book posters by Gunter Rambow from the 1970s, especially this one:
From Portraits in Creativity, a video profile of Maira Kalman, doer of many wonderful things.
Kalman's newest book is Girls Standing on Lawns, a collaboration with MoMA and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket).
This clever book contains 40 vintage photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, more than a dozen original paintings by Kalman inspired by the photographs, and brief, lyrical texts by Handler. Poetic and thought-provoking, Girls Standing on Lawns is a meditation on memories, childhood, nostalgia, home, family, and the act of seeing.
I once saw Kalman while I was eating lunch with my son in the cafe on the second floor of MoMA. She came in and sat opposite us a few tables away and started sketching. What a thrill to watch her work. (via @curiousoctopus)
If you've been paying attention to the promos for HBO's Game of Thrones series, there's been a lot of Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne. When the show started, Snow seemed like a relatively minor character, but his uncertain parentage hinted at possible greater things on the horizon. Here's a video explanation of one of the more popular theories about Snow's parents:
BTW, if you, like me, haven't read the books and have only seen the TV show, the video doesn't contain any outright spoilers, only enriching context. So watch away. And if you've read the books, you probably don't need to watch the video because you're probably already aware of this old theory. If you're interested, there are more theories (and crazy spoilers) where that came from.
Earlier today I asked my Twitter followers for recommendations for "really good" biographies about scientists. I gave Genius (James Gleick's bio of Richard Feynman) and Cleopatra, A Life (not about a scientist but was super interesting and well-written) as examples of what I was looking for. You can see the responses here and I've pulled out a few of the most interesting ones below:
- Isaac Newton by James Gleick. Gleick wrote the aforementioned Genius and Chaos, another favorite of mine. I tried to read The Information last year after many glowing recommendations from friends but couldn't get into it. Someone suggested Never at Rest is a superior Newton bio.
- The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman. I've read this biography of mathematician Paul Erdos; highly recommended.
- Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. I've never read anything by Sobel; I'll have to rectify that.
- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I enjoyed his problematic Jobs biography and I notice that he's written one on Ben Franklin as well.
- Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.
- American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Bio of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project. See also: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, one of my favorite books ever.
- Everything and More by David Foster Wallace. I've heard Wallace was bit handwavy with the math in this one, but I still enjoyed it.
- Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson. Newton was a detective?
- The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder. Four-way bio of a group of school friends (Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones) who changed the world.
- The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen. How Charles Darwin devised his theory of evolution and then sat on it for years is one of science's most fascinating stories.
- T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. Not a biography of a person but of a theory: that a meteor impact 65 million years ago caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
- Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. Disney isn't a scientist, but when you ask for book recommendations and Steven Johnson tells you to read something, it goes on the list.
- The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel. Bio of brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
- Edge of Objectivity by Charles Gillispie. A biography of modern science published in 1966, all but out of print at this point unfortunately.
- Galileo at Work by Stillman Drake.
- The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.
And many more here. Thanks to everyone who suggested books.
Update: Because this came up on Twitter, some biographies specifically about women in science: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Hedy's Folly, On a Farther Shore, Marie Curie: A Life, A Feeling for the Organism, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, and Radioactive.
Inspired by Halt and Catch Fire, I'm re-reading Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine. I had forgotten how good this book is. Man. The story follows an engineering team at Data General as they attempt to design and build an entirely new minicomputer in the late 1970s. Kidder won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award for this book.
The Atlantic published two lengthy excerpts of the book back in 1981 -- Flying Upside Down and The Ultimate Toy -- but if those catch your fancy at all, I'd recommend skipping them and just read the book.
One holiday morning in 1978, Tom West traveled to a city that was situated, he would later say guardedly, "somewhere in America." He entered a building as though he belonged there, strolled down a hallway, and let himself quietly into a windowless room. Just inside the door, he stopped.
The floor was torn up; a shallow trench filled with fat power cables traversed it. Along the far wall, at the end of the trench, enclosed in three large, cream-colored steel cabinets, stood a VAX 11/780, the most important of a new class of computers called "32-bit superminis." To West's surprise, one of the cabinets was open and a man with tools was standing in front of it. A technician, still installing the machine, West figured.
Although West's designs weren't illegal, they were sly, and he had no intention of embarrassing the friend who had told him he could visit this room. If the technician had asked West to identify himself, West wouldn't have lied and he wouldn't have answered the question, either. But the moment went by. The technician didn't inquire. West stood around and watched him work, and in a little while the technician packed up his tools and left.
Then West closed the door and walked back across the room to the computer, which was now all but fully assembled. He began to take it apart.
West was the leader of a team of computer engineers at a company called Data General. The machine that he was disassembling was produced by a rival firm, Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC. A VAX and a modest amount of adjunctive equipment sold for something like $200,000, and as West liked to say, DEC was beginning to sell VAXes "like jellybeans." West had traveled to this room to find out for himself just how good this computer was, compared with the one that his team was building.
Just after Infinite Jest was published, David Foster Wallace came to Boston and did a radio interview with Chris Lydon. Radio Open Source recently unearthed that interview, probably unheard for the past 18 years, and published it on their site.
When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn't just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I'm talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we've allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that's almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren't simplistic at all.
There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.
A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.
Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.
I missed this news a couple of months ago: Steven Spielberg is going to direct a movie version of Roald Dahl's The BFG.
Renowned film director Steven Spielberg will direct the new adaptation with Melissa Mathison, who last worked with Spielberg on ET, writing the script. Frank Marshall will produce the film and Michael Siegel and John Madden are on board as executive producers.
I can't find any direct evidence, but the way the news is being reported, this seems like it'll be a live-action film and not a Tintin 3-D motion capture affair.
The book cover for Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos is so so good:
The cover is a riff on, I think, Russell's Paradox, a problem with naive set theory described by Bertrand Russell in 1901 about whether sets can contain themselves.
Russell's paradox is based on examples like this: Consider a group of barbers who shave only those men who do not shave themselves. Suppose there is a barber in this collection who does not shave himself; then by the definition of the collection, he must shave himself. But no barber in the collection can shave himself. (If so, he would be a man who does shave men who shave themselves.)
Reminds me of David Pearson's genius cover for Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
Paul Greenberg has an excerpt in the NY Times of his new book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.
As go scallops, so goes the nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.
But it's much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.
The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we're talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts.
The article and book focus on three formerly American seafoods that we now mostly import from elsewhere: salmon, oysters, and shrimp.
In 2005, the United States imported five billion pounds of seafood, nearly double what we imported twenty years earlier. Bizarrely, during that same period, our seafood exports quadrupled. American Catch examines New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.
In the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate six hundred local oysters a year. Today, the only edible oysters lie outside city limits. Following the trail of environmental desecration, Greenberg comes to view the New York City oyster as a reminder of what is lost when local waters are not valued as a food source.
Farther south, a different catastrophe threatens another seafood-rich environment. When Greenberg visits the Gulf of Mexico, he arrives expecting to learn of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill's lingering effects on shrimpers, but instead finds that the more immediate threat to business comes from overseas. Asian-farmed shrimp-cheap, abundant, and a perfect vehicle for the frying and sauces Americans love-have flooded the American market.
Finally, Greenberg visits Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run left in the world. A pristine, productive fishery, Bristol Bay is now at great risk: The proposed Pebble Mine project could undermine the very spawning grounds that make this great run possible. In his search to discover why this precious renewable resource isn't better protected, Greenberg encounters a shocking truth: the great majority of Alaskan salmon is sent out of the country, much of it to Asia. Sockeye salmon is one of the most nutritionally dense animal proteins on the planet, yet Americans are shipping it abroad.
Craig Mod visited Ghana recently to check on the progress of Worldreader, an organization dedicated to distributing digital books to children and families in places like Rwanda, Ghana, and South Africa.
Those of us who work in technology tend to take religious-like stances over its ability to change the world, always for the better. My paranoia of trickery comes from an inherent suspicion towards technology, and an even deeper suspicion of presuming to know better. It's too easy to fall into the first-world trope of "all the poor need is a little sprinkling of silicon and then everything will be fine." It's never that simple. Technology is, at best, the tip of the iceberg. A very tiny component of the work that needs to be done in the greater whole of reforming or impacting or increasing accessibility to education, first-world and third-world alike. Technology deployed without infrastructure, without understanding, without administrative or community support, without proper curriculum is nearly worthless. Worse than worthless, even -- for it can be destructive, the time and budget spent on the technology eating into more fundamental, more meaningful points of badly needed reform.
The Mozart Project is a book about the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or is it an app? Stephen Fry calls it "a completely new kind of book"...you read it in iBooks but it acts more like an app than anything. Over 200 pages of text by leading Mozart scholars is accompanied by hours of music, videos, photo slideshows, all sorts of other goodies.
Curated and authored by some of the most respected experts, The Mozart Project gives new insight into the life of a musical genius, providing the ultimate experience both in terms of contributors and the carefully selected playlist of music and images that they have chosen to feature throughout the book.
After thumbing through a copy at my local bar the other night, I've had my eye on Jeffrey Morgenthaler's new book, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
Written by renowned bartender and cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Bar Book is the only technique-driven cocktail handbook out there. This indispensable guide breaks down bartending into essential techniques, and then applies them to building the best drinks. More than 60 recipes illustrate the concepts explored in the text, ranging from juicing, garnishing, carbonating, stirring, and shaking to choosing the correct ice for proper chilling and dilution of a drink. With how-to photography to provide inspiration and guidance, this book breaks new ground for the home cocktail enthusiast.
I've been beefing up my home bar over the past few weeks and hopefully this book will help me along in the technique department. Nothing in there about catching glasses behind your back, but no book is perfect, I guess. (thx, gabe)
Alex Wright previously wrote about Paul Otlet (and many other things) in his 2007 book Glut (my post about the book is here). Otlet imagined something like personal computing and the internet back in the 1930s.
Here, the workspace is no longer cluttered with any books. In their place, a screen and a telephone within reach. Over there, in an immense edifice, are all the books and information. From there, the page to be read, in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone, is made to appear on the screen. The screen could be divided in half, by four, or even ten if multiple texts and documents had to be consulted simultaneously. There would be a loudspeaker if the image had to be complemented by oral data and this improvement could continue to the automating the call for onscreen data. Cinema, phonographs, radio, television: these instruments, taken as substitutes for the book, will in fact become the new book, the most powerful works for the diffusion of human thought. This will be the radiated library and the televised book.
Wright is back with a new book called Cataloging the World in which Otlet takes center stage.
In Cataloging the World, Alex Wright introduces us to a figure who stands out in the long line of thinkers and idealists who devoted themselves to the task. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Paul Otlet, a librarian by training, worked at expanding the potential of the catalog card, the world's first information chip. From there followed universal libraries and museums, connecting his native Belgium to the world by means of a vast intellectual enterprise that attempted to organize and code everything ever published. Forty years before the first personal computer and fifty years before the first browser, Otlet envisioned a network of "electric telescopes" that would allow people everywhere to search through books, newspapers, photographs, and recordings, all linked together in what he termed, in 1934, a reseau mondial--essentially, a worldwide web.
James Somers says that we're probably using the wrong dictionary and that most modern dictionaries are "where all the words live and the writing's no good".
The New Oxford American dictionary, by the way, is not like singularly bad. Google's dictionary, the modern Merriam-Webster, the dictionary at dictionary.com: they're all like this. They're all a chore to read. There's no play, no delight in the language. The definitions are these desiccated little husks of technocratic meaningese, as if a word were no more than its coordinates in semantic space.
As a counterpoint, Somers offers John McPhee's secret weapon, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the bulk of which was the work of one man and was last revised in 1913.
Take a simple word, like "flash." In all the dictionaries I've ever known, I would have never looked up that word. I'd've had no reason to -- I already knew what it meant. But go look up "flash" in Webster's (the edition I'm using is the 1913). The first thing you'll notice is that the example sentences don't sound like they came out of a DMV training manual ("the lights started flashing") -- they come from Milton and Shakespeare and Tennyson ("A thought flashed through me, which I clothed in act").
You'll find a sense of the word that is somehow more evocative than any you've seen. "2. To convey as by a flash... as, to flash a message along the wires; to flash conviction on the mind." In the juxtaposition of those two examples -- a message transmitted by wires; a feeling that comes suddenly to mind -- is a beautiful analogy, worth dwelling on, and savoring. Listen to that phrase: "to flash conviction on the mind." This is in a dictionary, for God's sake.
And, toward the bottom of the entry, as McPhee promised, is a usage note, explaining the fine differences in meaning between words in the penumbra of "flash":
"... Flashing differs from exploding or disploding in not being accompanied with a loud report. To glisten, or glister, is to shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew."
Did you see that last clause? "To shine with a soft and fitful luster, as eyes suffused with tears, or flowers wet with dew." I'm not sure why you won't find writing like that in dictionaries these days, but you won't. Here is the modern equivalent of that sentence in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster: "glisten applies to the soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface ."
Who decided that the American public couldn't handle "a soft and fitful luster"? I can't help but think something has been lost. "A soft sparkle from a wet or oily surface" doesn't just sound worse, it actually describes the phenomenon with less precision. In particular it misses the shimmeriness, the micro movement and action, "the fitful luster," of, for example, an eye full of tears -- which is by the way far more intense and interesting an image than "a wet sidewalk."
It's as if someone decided that dictionaries these days had to sound like they were written by a Xerox machine, not a person, certainly not a person with a poet's ear, a man capable of high and mighty English, who set out to write the secular American equivalent of the King James Bible and pulled it off.
Don't miss the end of the piece, where Somers shows how to replace the tin-eared dictionaries on your Mac, iPhone, and Kindle with the Webster's 1913. (via @satishev)
Update: In the same vein, Kevin Kelly recommends using The Synonym Finder as a thesaurus.
Just look up a word, any word, and it proceeds to overwhelm you with alternative choices (a total of 1.5 million synonyms are presented in 1,361 pages), including short phrases and only mildly related words. Rather than being a problem of imprecision, the Finder's broad inclusiveness prods your imagination and prompts your recall.
What if Ayn Rand had written Harry Potter? It might go a little something like this.
Professor Snape stood at the front of the room, sort of Jewishly. "There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class. As such, I don't expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making. However, for those select few who possess, the predisposition...I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death."
Harry's hand shot up.
"What is it, Potter?" Snape asked, irritated.
"What's the value of these potions on the open market?"
"Why are you teaching children how to make these valuable products for ourselves at a schoolteacher's salary instead of creating products to meet modern demand?"
"You impertinent boy-"
"Conversely, what's to stop me from selling these potions myself after you teach us how to master them?"
"This is really more of a question for the Economics of Potion-Making, I guess. What time are econ lessons here?"
"We have no economics lessons in this school, you ridiculous boy."
Harry Potter stood up bravely. "We do now. Come with me if you want to learn about market forces!"
The students poured into the hallway after him. They had a leader at last.
Steven Johnson has been working on a six-part series for PBS called How We Got to Now. (There's a companion book as well.) The series is due in October but the trailer dropped today:
And here's a snippet of one of the episodes about railway time. I'm quite looking forward to this series; Johnson and I cover similar ground in our work with similar sensibilities. I'm always cribbing stuff from his writing and using his frameworks to think things through and just from the trailer, I counted at least three things I've covered on kottke.org in the past: Hedy Lamarr, urban sanitation, and Jacbo Riis (not to mention all sorts of stuff about time).
From a book by Hartmut Esslinger, a collection of photographs of prototypes his company Frog Design worked on for Apple Computer.
The portables and phones are especially interesting.
In Brazil's National Air and Space Museum, there is a golden globe containing the preserved heart of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a man who thought he beat the Wright Brothers in building and flying the first heavier-than-air flying machine. Santos-Dumont's first success was with dirigibles; at the turn of the century, he would regularly use his personal airship to fly to dinner or to visit friends.
Imagine the frenetic pace of life in belle époque Paris. Automobiles appearing on the streets, attracting huge crowds. The telegraph bringing news from all over the world. Cafés playing phonographs while their patrons drank absinthe and cocaine wine. Now imagine a Parisian walking the streets in the early morning, in a time where an automobile was still a fascinating novelty, and then suddenly, a small airship appears floating just above the street. A crowd would gather to see the aviator driving his Baladeuse (The Wanderer), a personal sized dirigible, over the streets as if it were a carriage or automobile. Santos-Dumont would then land in front of his favorite café, tie the guide rope much like one might tie a horse to a hitching post, and walk in for a meal. It must have been quite a sight. Going to the café was not the only time Santos-Dumont used his Baladeuse -- he was also fond of surprising his friends by landing in front of their porches with his airship.
Paul Hoffman wrote a well-reviewed book about Santos-Dumont called Wings of Madness.
Let's talk cultural mesofacts. You likely recall 50 Cent as a rapper In Da Club but much has happened since then. 50 diversified like crazy: started a record label, parlayed a possible Vitaminwater endorsement into an investment worth $100 million, and, relevant to the matter at hand, wrote several books, including a pair of self-improvement books: Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life and The 50th Law. Zach Baron recently recruited 50 Cent to be his life coach for a GQ piece and it ends up going way better than he expected.
50 Cent thinks for a minute. Actually, he says, my girlfriend -- the one I just mentioned, the one I'd just moved in with? 50 Cent would like her to make a vision board, too. Then we're going to compare. "Take things out of your folder and things out of her folder to create a folder that has everything," he says. "Now the vision board is no longer your personal vision board for yourself: It's a joint board." That joint board will represent what we have in common. It will be a monument to our love.
But there will be some leftover unmatched photos, too, in each of our folders. And that's what the joint board is really for -- what it's designed to reveal. "The things that end up on your vision board that aren't in hers are the things that she has to accept," 50 Cent says. "And the things that she has that you don't are the things that you have to make a compromise with." In a healthy relationship, he explains, your differences are really what need talking about. This is how you go about making that conversation happen.
This article just keeps getting better the more you read it. (via @ystrickler)
Internet mega-retailer Amazon is trying, mob-style, to pressure Hachette for better terms on ebooks by disappearing the publisher's book from amazon.com.
The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling's new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone's "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" -- a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it -- is suddenly listed as "unavailable."
In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons's new novel, "The Girls of August," coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.
No question about it: this sucks on Amazon's part and demonstrates the degree to which the company's top priority isn't customer service. Better customer service in this case would be to offer these books for sale. I noticed another less nefarious instance of this the other day: because Amazon is offering a streaming version of The Lego Movie (which presumably has a high profit margin), they are not currently taking pre-orders of the The Lego Movie Blu-ray (out on June 17), even though Barnes and Noble has it for pre-order and Amazon has no problem offering for pre-order a Blu-ray of The Nutty Professor that isn't out until September. I guess it makes sense to drive sales to the high-margin streaming offering but not letting people pre-order what is likely to be a very popular Blu-ray is baffling.
Anyway, if this trend continues, I'd look for Amazon to start more aggressively promoting the Kindle editions of books, to the point of manipulating available inventory as with Hachette. That is, if they're not doing it already.
No idea if this is for sale anywhere (I couldn't find it) or if it's just a design exercise, but this cover for Peter Benchley's Jaws designed by Tom Lenartowicz is inspired. (via ★interesting)
This may be the strangest parenting book I've ever come across: Parentology by Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU. In an interview with Freakonomics, Conley explains what makes his parenting approach so unconventional:
As an immigrant society with no common culture, we Americans have always made things up as we go -- be it baseball, jazz or the Internet. Parenting is no different, whether we admit it or not. If we want to keep producing innovative kids who can succeed in today's global economy, we should be constantly experimenting on them.
For example, I read the latest research on allergies and T-cell response and then intentionally exposed my kids to raw sewage (in small doses, of course) to build up their immune systems. I bribed them to do math thanks to an experiment involving Mexican villagers that demonstrated the effectiveness of monetary incentives for schooling outcomes. I perused a classic study suggesting that confidence-boosting placebos improved kids' actual cognitive development, fed my kids vitamins before an exam, told them that they were amphetamines -- and watched their scores soar.
And in this excerpt of the book from Salon, Conley explains why he and his wife named their kids E and Yo.
Unlike having fewer kids, birthing them in the Northern Hemisphere during October of a year when not many others are having kids, avoiding the mercury in fish (while still getting enough omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids), and being rich, well-educated, and handsome to boot, there is one thing you can bequeath your kids that is entirely within your control. I'm talking about selecting their names. We may not control what race or gender we bequeath our offspring (unless, of course, we are utilizing a sperm bank in the Empire State Building for IVF), but we do have say over their names. If you play it safe with Bill or Lisa, it probably means your kids will be marginally more likely to avoid risk, too. If you're like us and name them E or Yo, they are likely to grow up into weirdoes like their parents-or at least not work in middle management.
Early studies on names claimed that folks with strange ones were overrepresented in prisons and mental hospitals. But the more recent (and in my professional opinion, better) research actually comes to the opposite conclusion: Having a weird name makes you more likely to have impulse control since you get lots of practice biting your tongue when bigger, stronger, older kids make fun of you in the schoolyard. This study makes me happy, given the growing scientific literature around the extreme importance of impulse control and its close cousin, delayed gratification. These two, some argue, are even more important than raw IQ in predicting socioeconomic success, marital stability, and even staying out of prison.
Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing and Make Magazine recently published Maker Dad, a book full of father-daughter DIY projects. I haven't dug too far into my copy yet, but the projects seem appropriate for kids and parents of all genders.
As the editor in chief of MAKE magazine, Mark Frauenfelder has spent years combing through DIY books, but he's never been able to find one with geeky projects he can share with his two daughters. Maker Dad is the first DIY book to use cutting-edge (and affordable) technology in appealing projects for fathers and daughters to do together. These crafts and gadgets are both rewarding to make and delightful to play with. What's more, Maker Dad teaches girls lifelong skills-like computer programming, musicality, and how to use basic hand tools-as well as how to be creative problem solvers.
Projects run the gamut from "Easy and Quick" to "Challenging" and include silkscreening tshirts, a lunch box guitar, custom rubber stamps, and programming in Scratch.
In Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, Lisa-ann Gershwin argues that the jellyfish are coming on, and they're coming on strong.
If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica -- not someday, but now, today -- what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world's fisheries, outcompete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me?
This New York Review of Books review of Stung! by Tim Flannery is well worth a read, with fascinating bits throughout.
The question of jellyfish death is vexing. If jellyfish fall on hard times, they can simply "de-grow." That is, they reduce in size, but their bodies remain in proportion. That's a very different outcome from what is seen in starving fish, or people. And when food becomes available again, jellyfish simply recommence growing. Some individual jellyfish live for a decade. But the polyp stage survives pretty much indefinitely by cloning. One polyp colony started in 1935 and studied ever since is still alive and well in a laboratory in Virginia.
One kind of jellyfish, which might be termed the zombie jelly, is quite literally immortal. When Turritopsis dohrnii "dies" it begins to disintegrate, which is pretty much what you expect from a corpse. But then something strange happens. A number of cells escape the rotting body. These cells somehow find each other, and reaggregate to form a polyp. All of this happens within five days of the jellyfish's "death," and weirdly, it's the norm for the species. Well may we ask of this astonishing creature, "Sting, where is thy death?"
(via phil gyford)
From Grantland, an excerpt from Console Wars, a new book by Blake J. Harris about the video game console battles of the 1990s between Nintendo and Sega. The excerpt is about the rise of Nintendo.
And just like that, the North American videogame industry ground to a halt. Hardware companies (like Atari) went bankrupt, software companies (like Sega) were sold for pennies on the dollar, and retailers (like Sears) vowed never to go into the business again. Meanwhile, Nintendo quietly glided through the bloody waters on a gorilla-shaped raft. The continuing cash flow from Donkey Kong enabled Arakawa, Stone, Judy, and Lincoln to dream of a new world order, one where NOA miraculously resurrected the industry and Nintendo reigned supreme. Not now, perhaps, but one day soon.
Harris is also working on a documentary based on the book. And Sony is making a "feature-film" adaptation of the book as well. Cool!
Update: Medium has another excerpt from the book.
Maybe this Sonic could sell in Japan, but in America he belonged inside a nightmare.
Kalinske got off the phone with Nakayama and took the fax to Madeline Schroeder's office. "I have good news and I have scary news." He handed her the artwork. "What do you think?"
She looked it over. "I think we'll be the first videogame company whose core demographic is goths."
"Nakayama loves it."
"Of course he does," she said. "It's so weirdly Japanese. I'm surprised the girlfriend's boobs aren't hanging out of a schoolgirl outfit."
Despite his sour mood, Kalinske laughed. "Her name is Madonna."
Schroeder put the drawing on the desk. After a long silent inspection they both spoke at the same time, saying the exact same thing: "Can you fix it?"
This is odd: Gary Stewart has written a book about the search for his biological father and through the process discovered his father is the still-uncaught Zodiac Killer. The book's description promises new "forensic evidence".
An explosive and historic book of true crime and an emotionally powerful and revelatory memoir of a man whose ten-year search for his biological father leads to a chilling discovery: His father is one of the most notorious-and still at large-serial killers in America.
Soon after his birth mother contacted him for the first time at the age of thirty-nine, adoptee Gary L. Stewart decided to search for his biological father. It was a quest that would lead him to a horrifying truth and force him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about himself and his world.
The book is out today and was kept secret until yesterday. This sounds about as plausible as Jesus's wife, but who knows?
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the co-authors of the immensely popular Freakonomics, are back with their third book in the series: Think Like a Freak. In it, rather than discussing what they think, they talk about how they think.
Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you'll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they're from Nigeria.
The book is out on May 12, but of course you can preorder, etc.
Update: Excerpt in the WSJ.
Peter Bach, a cancer doctor, writes about losing his wife to cancer.
The streetlights in Buenos Aires are considerably dimmer than they are in New York, one of the many things I learned during my family's six-month stay in Argentina. The front windshield of the rental car, aged and covered in the city's grime, further obscured what little light came through. When we stopped at the first red light after leaving the hospital, I broke two of my most important marital promises. I started acting like my wife's doctor, and I lied to her.
I had just taken the PET scan, the diagnostic X-ray test, out of its manila envelope. Raising the films up even to the low light overhead was enough for me to see what was happening inside her body. But when we drove on, I said, "I can't tell; I can't get my orientation. We have to wait to hear from your oncologist back home." I'm a lung doctor, not an expert in these films, I feigned. But I had seen in an instant that the cancer had spread.
The last sentence here really got to me:
Our life together was gone, and carrying on without her was exactly that, without her. I was reminded of our friend Liz's insight after she lost her husband to melanoma. She told me she had plenty of people to do things with, but nobody to do nothing with.
Bach's discussion of treatment options reminded me of Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies, which is one of my favorite books of recent years. I was also reminded of how doctors die.
From the editors of The American Scholar, the ten best sentences. Presumably in all of literature? Here's one of them, from James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
Why are these the ten best sentences?
Homer Economicus is a new book which uses the fictional world of Springfield on The Simpsons to explain the basic concepts of economics.
Since The Simpsons centers on the daily lives of the Simpson family and its colorful neighbors, three opening chapters focus on individual behavior and decision-making, introducing readers to the economic way of thinking about the world. Part II guides readers through six chapters on money, markets, and government. A third and final section discusses timely topics in applied microeconomics, including immigration, gambling, and health care as seen in The Simpsons. Reinforcing the nuts and bolts laid out in any principles text in an entertaining and culturally relevant way, this book is an excellent teaching resource that will also be at home on the bookshelf of an avid reader of pop economics.
Photographer David Liittschwager captured the little ecosystem of life contained in a splash of seawater magnified 25 times:
It's the microscopic equivalent of the Hubble Deep Field image and worth seeing larger. Here's part of the larger image:
Liittschwager took the photo for National Geographic, but it also might be contained in his book, A World in One Cubic Foot, in which he took photos in locations all over the world of the life that passed through 1 cubic foot of space in 24 hours.
For A World in One Cubic Foot, esteemed nature photographer David Liittschwager took a bright green metal cube-measuring precisely one cubic foot-and set it in various ecosystems around the world, from Costa Rica to Central Park. Working with local scientists, he measured what moved through that small space in a period of twenty-four hours. He then photographed the cube's setting and the plant, animal, and insect life inside it -- anything visible to the naked eye. The result is a stunning portrait of the amazing diversity that can be found in ecosystems around the globe.
Prints of this image are available at Art.com in sizes up to 64"x48". (via colossal)
I really liked this bit from Rolling Stone's interview with Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone -- they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
Last week, I noted on Twitter that a 700-page academic book by a French economist topped the best sellers list on Amazon. Well, Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is still #1 on Amazon, even though the hardcover is currently out of stock. If you're curious about this anti-Kardashian moment in our culture but don't want to dive in fully, you can read the book's introduction on Harvard University Press's site.
The distribution of wealth is one of today's most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality and greater harmony among the classes, as Simon Kuznets thought in the twentieth century? What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the eighteenth century, and what lessons can we derive from that knowledge for the century now under way?
Or you can try Vox's short guide to Capital or HBR's Capital in a Lot Less than 696 Pages.
It is massive (696 pages) and massively ambitious (the title is a very conscious echo of Karl Marx's Das Kapital). It came out in France last year to great acclaim, which meant that those in the English-speaking world who pay attention to such matters knew that something big was coming. Over the past few weeks it has become one of those things that everybody's talking about just because everybody's talking about it. That, and it really is important.
Is it worth reading? Martin Wolf of the Financial Times called it "enthralling"; a couple people I know have described it as "a slog." I'd liken it to a big river -- muddy and occasionally meandering, but with a powerful current that keeps pulling you along, plus lots of interesting sights along the way. There are endless numbers and (ugly but generally understandable) charts, but also frequent references to the novels of Balzac and Austen, and even a brief analysis of Disney's The Aristocats. Regular people can read this thing; it's just a matter of the time commitment. You should definitely buy it, if your place on the income distribution allows it. It looks good on a bookshelf, plus every copy sold makes Piketty wealthier, allowing us to discover whether this alters his views about inequality.
In his cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson lays out, over 38 pages, the recipe for what might be the best bread in the world. The first time through, the recipe takes two weeks to make.
To Chad, bread is the foundation of a meal, the center of daily life, and each loaf tells the story of the baker who shaped it. He developed his unique bread over two decades of apprenticeship with the finest artisan bakers in France and the United States, as well as experimentation in his own ovens.
A streamlined version of the recipe is available from the NY Times. (via smithsonian)
Letters of Note, which I've featured on kottke.org many times, is coming out with a book, which collects some of the site's best and most memorable letters.
This spectacular collection of more than 125 letters offers a never-before-seen glimpse of the events and people of history -- the brightest and best, the most notorious, and the endearingly everyday. Entries include a transcript of the letter; a short contextual introduction; and, in 100 cases, a captivating facsimile of the letter itself.
A UK version has been available since last year and the US version will be out on May 6.
Nathan Pyle has written and illustrated a book about the unwritten rules for how to behave on the streets of NYC. It's called NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette (only $6!).
In NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette, Pyle reveals the secrets and unwritten rules for living in and visiting New York including the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown? Why are there so many doors in the sidewalk? How do I walk on an escalator? Do we need be touching right now? Where should I inhale or exhale while passing sidewalk garbage? How long should I honk my horn? If New York were a game show, how would I win? What happens when I stand in the bike lane? Who should get the empty subway seats? How do I stay safe during a trash tornado?
In support of the book, Pyle animated a few of the tips and put them on Imgur. Also, the Apple ebook contains the animated versions of the illustrations. You fancy!
The very first Kickstarter campaign I ever backed was Rachel Sussman's project to photograph the oldest living organisms in the world.
I'm researching, working with biologists, and traveling all over the world to find and photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. I started the project 5 years ago, and have since photographed nearly 25 different organisms, ranging from the Bristlecone Pine and Giant Sequoias that you've surely heard of, to some truly unusual and unique desert shrubs, bacteria, a predatory fungus, and a clonal colony of Aspen trees that's male and, in theory, immortal.
Her goal was to compile the photographs into a book. Almost four years later, the book is out. Looks like it was worth the wait. The trailer does a nice job explaining what the book is all about:
Egg Apr 13 2014
New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, "A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient".
For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it's how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.
Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:
But often, Ruhlman argues, we don't treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. "It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America," he says. "We kill our eggs with heat."
Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. "When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn't fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation."
The Vatican is beginning the process of digitizing its extensive library of books and manuscripts, previously only available to a select few scholars and historians. Their plan calls for an initial 3000 manuscripts to be scanned, with the rest of the 82,000 other documents to hopefully follow.
That's 41 million pages spanning nearly 2,000 years of church history that will soon be clickable, zoomable, and presumably, printable. When all is said and done, you'll be able to read the Psalms handwritten across 13th-century vellum on your iPhone -- so long as you speak ancient Greek.
Mason Currey's book about the daily routines of scientists, painters, writers, and other creative people looks interesting. Sarah Green collected a list of common practices among some of the book's "healthier geniuses".
A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him -- something of which today's cubicle worker can only dream. Mark Twain's family knew better than to breach his study door -- if they needed him, they'd blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he'd tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.
I love reading about people's workspaces; here's an old post about George Bernard Shaw's rotating writing room. (via myself apparently?)
Michael Lewis's new book about high-frequency trading dropped on Monday with less than 24 hours notice and the media is scrambling to catch up. There's plenty of love for Lewis and his books out there, but Tyler Cowen has been linking to some critiques. For Bloomberg, Matt Levine writes:
In my alternative Michael Lewis story, the smart young whippersnappers build high-frequency trading firms that undercut big banks' gut-instinct-driven market making with tighter spreads and cheaper trading costs. Big HFTs like Knight/Getco and Virtu trade vast volumes of stock while still taking in much less money than the traditional market makers: $688 million and $623 million in 2013 market-making revenue, respectively, for Knight and Virtu, versus $2.6 billion in equities revenue for Goldman Sachs and $4.8 billion for J.P. Morgan. Even RBC made 594 million Canadian dollars trading equities last year. The high-frequency traders make money more consistently than the old-school traders, but they also make less of it.
And here's Matthew Philips on What Michael Lewis Gets Wrong About High-Frequency Trading:
1. HFT doesn't prey on small mom-and-pop investors. In his first two TV appearances, Lewis stuck to a simple pitch: Speed traders have rigged the stock market, and the biggest losers are average, middle-class retail investors-exactly the kind of people who watch 60 Minutes and the Today show. It's "the guy sitting at his ETrade account," Lewis told Matt Lauer. The way Lewis sees it, speed traders prey on retail investors by "trading against people who don't know the market."
The idea that retail investors are losing out to sophisticated speed traders is an old claim in the debate over HFT, and it's pretty much been discredited. Speed traders aren't competing against the ETrade guy, they're competing with each other to fill the ETrade guy's order.
And Felix Salmon:
This vagueness about time is one of the weaknesses of the book: it's hard to keep track of time, and a lot of it seems to be an exposé not of high-frequency trading as it exists today, but rather of high-frequency trading as it existed during its brief heyday circa 2008. Lewis takes pains to tell us what happened to the number of trades per day between 2006 and 2009, for instance, but doesn't feel the need to mention what has happened since then. (It is falling, quite dramatically.) The scale of the HFT problem - and the amount of money being made by the HFT industry - is in sharp decline: there was big money to be made once upon a time, but nowadays it's not really there anymore. Because that fact doesn't fit Lewis's narrative, however, I doubt I'm going to find it anywhere in his book.
Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Liar's Poker) is back with another book about the financial markets: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. It's the story of high-frequency trading and the traders who are fighting against it.
Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post-financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading-source of the most intractable problems-will have no advantage whatsoever.
The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think "Wall Street guy." Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world's stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.
From a Bloomberg article about the book:
His latest target, high-frequency trading, comprises a diverse set of software-driven strategies that have spread from U.S. equity markets to most developed countries as computer power grew and regulators tried to break the grip of centralized exchanges. While the tactics vary, they usually employ super-fast computers to post and cancel orders at rates measured in thousandths or even millionths of a second to capture price discrepancies on more than 50 public and private venues that make up the American equities market.
I don't know too much about it but from what I've read, high-frequency trading seems to involve huge Wall Street banks using the Office Space/Richard-Pryor-in-Superman-III trick of shaving fractions of a penny off of trillions of trades every year, except that it's perfectly legal. The NY Times has an excerpt of the book to further whet your appetite.
Looking forward to this one: a cocktail recipe book from Death & Co, an East Village cocktail joint.
Featuring hundreds of recipes for signature Death & Co creations as well as classic drink formulas,Death & Co is not only a comprehensive collection of the bar's best, but also a complete cocktail education. With chapters on the theory and philosophy of drink-making; a complete guide to the spirits, tools, and other ingredients needed to make a great bar; and specs for nearly 500 iconic drinks, Death & Co is destined to become the go-to reference on craft cocktails.
Kate Ascher, author of the great The Works: Anatomy of a City, has a new book out about transportation. The Way to Go explores how global transportation works, from how car engines work to the ocean routes travelled by huge cargo ships. Slate has an excerpt.
Focusing on the machines that underpin our lives, Ascher's The Way to Go also introduces the systems that keep those machines in business -- the emergency communication networks that connect ships at sea, the automated tolling mechanisms that maintain the flow of highway traffic, the air control network that keeps planes from colliding in the sky. Equally fascinating are the technologies behind these complex systems: baggage tag readers that make sure people's bags go where they need to; automated streetlights that adjust their timing based on traffic flow; GPS devices that pinpoint where we are on earth at any second. Together these technologies move more people farther, faster, and more cheaply than at any other time in history.
Ordered. The kids are going to love this one...it's like a more grown-up version of Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
Ed Catmull has written a book about Pixar's creative process: Creativity, Inc.
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation -- into the meetings, postmortems, and "Braintrust" sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture -- but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, "an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible."
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired -- and so profitable.
Catmull was a founder of Pixar and while he never got the press Jobs and Lasseter did, he was instrumental in the company's success and is currently president of both Disney and Pixar's animation studios. Fast Company has an excerpt of the book.
Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so -- to go, as I say, "from suck to not-suck."
Think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must've seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don't get them right on the first pass. This is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process -- reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.
National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig has visited Chernobyl nine times over the past twenty years. The Long Shadow of Chernobyl is a forthcoming book collecting Ludwig's photos, which includes an essay by Mikhail Gorbachev. The publication of the book is being funded via Kickstarter. There is also an iOS app.
Shane Parrish's excerpt and exploration of Paul Tough's How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character made me want to stop everything and read the book all the way through.
"Tell me about your game," Spiegel said. Sebastian flopped into the chair and handed her his notepad, where he'd recorded all the moves for both players in the game.
Sebastian explained that the other guy was simply better. "He had good skills," he said. "Good strategies."
And this is the point where many of us would simply say something along the lines of "did you do your best?," in which case the likely response is "Yes." Everyone is at least let off the hook. The teacher for ensuring students try their best, the student for having lost to someone better. Spiegel did not take this approach.
You may remember Tough's 2011 piece on grit in the NY Times Magazine.
The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character -- those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they're screwed, to be honest. I don't think they've grown the capacities to be able to handle that."
Fantastic...Randall Munroe is turning his What If? web series into a book. Munroe explains:
As I've sifted through the letters submitted to What If every week, I've occasionally set aside particularly neat questions that I wanted to spend a little more time on. This book features my answers to those questions, along with revised and updated versions of some of my favorite articles from the site. (I'm also including my personal list of the weirdest questions people have submitted.)
When Owen Suskind was three, a switch flipped within him and he went from a typical chatty rambunctious three-year-old to autistic.
I had just started a job as The Wall Street Journal's national affairs reporter. My wife, Cornelia, a former journalist, was home with him -- a new story every day, a new horror. He could barely use a sippy cup, though he'd long ago graduated to a big-boy cup. He wove about like someone walking with his eyes shut. "It doesn't make sense," I'd say at night. "You don't grow backward." Had he been injured somehow when he was out of our sight, banged his head, swallowed something poisonous? It was like searching for clues to a kidnapping.
After visits to several doctors, we first heard the word "autism." Later, it would be fine-tuned to "regressive autism," now affecting roughly a third of children with the disorder. Unlike the kids born with it, this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months -- then they vanish. Some never get their speech back. Families stop watching those early videos, their child waving to the camera. Too painful. That child's gone.
But a tenuous connection remained between Owen and his pre-autistic self: Disney movies. And through them, Owen slowly learns how to communicate with the outside world again.
So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November 1994. Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish.... "Juicervose, juicervose." It is something we've been hearing for the past few weeks. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. "The Little Mermaid" is playing as we settle in, propping up pillows. We've all seen it at least a dozen times, but it's at one of the best parts: where Ursula the sea witch, an acerbic diva, sings her song of villainy, "Poor Unfortunate Souls," to the selfish mermaid, Ariel, setting up the part in which Ursula will turn Ariel into a human, allowing her to seek out the handsome prince, in exchange for her voice.
When the song is over, Owen lifts the remote. Hits rewind.
"Come on, Owen, just let it play!" Walt moans. But Owen goes back just 20 seconds or so, to the song's next-to-last stanza, with Ursula shouting:
Go ahead -- make your choice!
I'm a very busy woman, and I haven't got all day.
It won't cost much, just your voice!
He does it again. Stop. Rewind. Play. And one more time. On the fourth pass, Cornelia whispers, "It's not 'juice.' " I barely hear her. "What?" "It's not 'juice.' It's 'just' ... 'just your voice'!"
I grab Owen by the shoulders. "Just your voice! Is that what you're saying?!"
He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!"
Walt starts to shout, "Owen's talking again!" A mermaid lost her voice in a moment of transformation. So did this silent boy. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!" Owen keeps saying it, watching us shout and cheer. And then we're up, all of us, bouncing on the bed. Owen, too, singing it over and over -- "Juicervose!" -- as Cornelia, tears beginning to fall, whispers softly, "Thank God, he's in there."
This is the best thing I've read in a month, so so heartbreaking and amazing. Just pre-ordered the book...can't wait to read the full version.
Been reading Crabtree with the kids lately and they really like it. Reminds me of Richard Scarry's books a bit...lots of different and often humorous objects to discover on each page.
Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth. But don't worry, he'll find them if he can just get his things organized! Alfred's world is cluttered with surprising objects. Some are very uncommon, and some are probably not where they ought to be. There are a lot of pencils and small yapping dogs.
And who knew McSweeney's made children's books?
The folks behind Cabin Porn are making a book with photography by Noah Kalina. Outstanding.
Raffi Khatchadourian's long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:
But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world's energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity's will. iter, in Latin, means "the way."
But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.
For the machine's creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars' worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world's population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.
No one knows iter's true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars -- a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.
I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it's only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.
But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER's international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan's Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan's view, that's the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.
Great book cover design alert:
The book is the forthcoming Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Cover art direction by Rodrigo Corral, designed by Timothy Goodman. (via @robinsloan)
Pop Chart Lab has produced a print of grammatical diagrams of the opening lines of notable novels. Here's Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea:
There are also sentences from DFW, Plath, and Austen. Prints start at $29.
Love this concept cover for Fahrenheit 451 by designer Elizabeth Perez...the 1 is a match and the spine is striking paper for lighting it.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about a dystopian future where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. The story is about suppressing ideas, and about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
I wanted to spread the book-burning message to the book itself. The book's spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.
About 250 million years ago, Earth suffered its fifth (and worst) mass extinction event. Nearly seventy percent of land species disappeared. And they got off easy compared to marine species. Are we headed for another mass extinction on Earth? I'm not ready to break that news. But something unusual is definitely going on and extinction rates seem to be speeding up. Here's an interesting chat with Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction.
The worst mass extinction of all time came about 250 million years ago [the Permian-Triassic extinction event]. There's a pretty good consensus there that this was caused by a huge volcanic event that went on for a long time and released a lot of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. That is pretty ominous considering that we are releasing a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and people increasingly are drawing parallels between the two events.
Rebecca Mead's new book comes out today, My Life in Middlemarch. The New Yorker has an excerpt adapted from the book about George Eliot's biggest fan, Alexander Main.
My copy of "Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings," which I bought a few years ago from a secondhand bookseller, is the tenth edition, from 1896, which gives Main an enviably long time on the back-list. When I thumb through its pages of quotations, some of them extending for more than a page, printed in a font size that has me reaching for reading glasses, I am overcome by a dreadful sense of depletion. I can think of no surer way to be put off the work of George Eliot than by trying to read the "Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings." On any given page is an out-of-context pronouncement -- "iteration, like friction, is likely to generate heat instead of progress" -- or a phrase so recondite that it requires several readings before it can be parsed. Main's book is the nineteenth-century equivalent of the refrigerator magnet.
Gothamist uncovered a NYC guide book from the 1920s called Valentine's City of New York: A Guide Book. Some of the tips include:
Don't take the recommendation of strangers regarding hotels... Don't get too friendly with plausible strangers.
Don't gape at women smoking cigarettes in restaurants. They are harmless and respectable. They are also "smart."
Don't forget to tip. Tip early and tip often.
David Carr writes about the surprising success of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools book, which is based on his long-running website of the same name.
But last year, he had what sounded to me like a dumb idea. Mr. Kelly edits and owns Cool Tools, a website that writes about neat stuff and makes small money off referral revenue from Amazon when people proceed to buy some of those things. He decided to edit the thousands of reviews that had accrued over the last 10 years into a self-published print catalog -- also called "Cool Tools" -- which he would then sell for $39.99.
So, to review, his idea was to manufacture a floppy 472-page catalog that would weigh 4.5 pounds, full of buying advice that had already appeared free on the web, essentially turning weightless pixels into bulky bundles of atoms. To make it happen, he crowdsourced designs from all over the world, found a printer in China and then arranged for shipping and distribution. It all seemed a little quixotic and, well, beside the point.
Except the first printing of 10,000 copies, just in time for Christmas, sold out immediately, a second printing of 12,000 will go on sale at Amazon next week and a third printing of 20,000 copies is underway. So, not so dumb after all.
I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into my copy yet, but my six-year-old sat down with it a few weeks ago and had about a million questions per page for me. Which seems a like a positive sign.
Magazine covers, movie posters, and book covers all have the same basic job, so it seemed proper to group these lists together: 50 [Book] Covers for 2013, The 20 best magazine covers of 2013, The 50 Best Posters Of 2013, Top [Magazine] Covers 2013, The Best Book Covers of 2013, The 30 Best Movie Posters of 2013, Best Book Covers of 2013. Lots of great work here. I still can't figure out whether I love or hate this cover of W with George Clooney on it:
Jason Segel is set to play David Foster Wallace in a movie adaptation of David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
Story finds Lipsky accompanying Wallace across the country on a book tour promoting "Infinite Jest," just as Wallace starts to become famous. Along the way, jealousy and competition bubbles up between the two writers as they discuss women, depression and the pros and cons of fame.
Reaction from the DFW fan club abut Segel playing DFW has been tepid, to say the least.
Inspired by the A History of the World in 100 Objects project done by the BBC and the British Museum, Adrian Hon presents A History of the Future in 100 Objects, presented from the perspective of someone writing in 2082. From the introduction:
Every century is extraordinary, of course. Some may be the bloodiest or the darkest; others encompass momentous social revolutions, or scientific advances, or religious and philosophical movements. The 21st century is different: it represents the first time in our history that we have truly had to question what it means to be human. It is the stories of our collective humanity that I hope to tell through the hundred objects in this book.
I tell the story of how we became more connected than ever before, with objects like Babel, Silent Messaging, the Nautilus-3, and the Brain Bubble - and how we became fragmented, both physically and culturally, with the Fourth Great Awakening, and the Biomes.
With the Braid Collective, the Loop, the Steward Medal, and the Rechartered Cities, we made tremendous steps forward on our long pursuit of greater equality and enlightenment -- but the Locked Simulation Interrogations, the Sudan-Shanghai Letter, the Collingwood Meteor, and the Downvoted all showed how easy it was for us to lapse back into horror and atrocity.
We automated our economy with the UCS Deliverbots, the Mimic Scripts, the Negotiation Agents, and the Old Drones, destroying the entire notion of work and employment in the process; and we transformed our politics with Jorge Alvarez's Presidential Campaign, and the Constitutional Blueprints.
The book is available on the Kindle.
On Medium, an excerpt of Leander Kahney's book on Jony Ive about how the iPhone came to be developed at Apple.
Excited by Kerr's explanation of what a sophisticated touch interface could do, the team members started to brainstorm the kinds of hardware they might build with it.
The most obvious idea was a touchscreen Mac. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, users could tap on the screen of the computer to control it. One of the designers suggested a touchscreen controller that functioned as an alternate to a keyboard and mouse, a sort of virtual keyboard with soft keys.
As Satzger remembered, "We asked, How do we take a tablet, which has been around for a while, and do something more with it? Touch is one thing, but multitouch was new. You could swipe to turn a page, as opposed to finding a button on the screen that would allow you turn the page. Instead of trying to find a button to make operations, we could turn a page just like a newspaper."
Jony in particular had always had a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of computing; he had put handles on several of his early machines specifically to encourage touching. But here was an opportunity to make the ultimate tactile device. No more keyboard, mouse, pen, or even a click wheel-the user would touch the actual interface with his or her fingers. What could be more intimate?
Ben Blatt sat down with a bunch of Where's Waldo? books and found a pattern to the striped beanpole's hiding places.
It may not be immediately clear from looking at this map, but my hunch that there's a better way to hunt was right. There isn't one corner of the page where Waldo is always hiding; readers would have already noticed if his patterns were so obvious. What we do see, as highlighted in the map below, is that 53 percent of the time Waldo is hiding within one of two 1.5-inch tall bands, one starting three inches from the bottom of the page and another one starting seven inches from the bottom, stretching across the spread.
A chart of where many varieties of bourbon come from, along with five things you can learn from the chart.
Pappy Van Winkle is frequently described by both educated and uneducated drinkers as the best bourbon on the market. It is certainly aged for longer than most premium bourbons, and has earned a near hysterical following of people scrambling to get one of the very few bottles that are released each year. Of the long-aged bourbons, it seems to be aged very gently year-to-year, and this recommends it enormously. But if you, like most people, can't find Pappy, try W. L. Weller. There's a 12 year old variety that retails for $23 around the corner. Pappy 15-year sells for $699-$1000 even though it's the exact same liquid as the Pappy (same mash bill, same spirit, same barrels); the only difference is it's aged 3 years less.
The chart is taken from the Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining.
Written by the founders of Kings County Distillery, New York City's first distillery since Prohibition, this spirited illustrated book explores America's age-old love affair with whiskey. It begins with chapters on whiskey's history and culture from 1640 to today, when the DIY trend and the classic cocktail craze have conspired to make it the next big thing. For those thirsty for practical information, the book next provides a detailed, easy-to-follow guide to safe home distilling, complete with a list of supplies, step-by-step instructions, and helpful pictures, anecdotes, and tips.
Prolific and celebrated writer William T. Vollmann is a "devoted" cross-dresser.
Mr. Vollmann is 54, heterosexual and married with a daughter in high school. He began cross-dressing seriously about five years ago. Sometimes he transforms himself into a woman as part of a strange vision quest, aided by drugs or alcohol, to mind-meld with a female character in a book he's writing. Other times it's just because he likes the "smooth and slippery" feel of women's lingerie.
He said his wife, who is an oncologist, is not thrilled with his outré experiments and keeps her distance. "Probably when the book comes out, it'll be the first she's heard of it," he said. "I always try to keep my wife and child out of what I do. I don't want to cause them any embarrassment." He asked that his wife not be interviewed for this article.
Vollmann has collected self-portraits of himself as his female alter ego in The Book of Dolores. (via @DavidGrann)
One of my favorite books on technology, Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet, was adapted into a TV documentary. It is now available on YouTube:
The Victorian Internet tells the colorful story of the telegraph's creation and remarkable impact, and of the visionaries, oddballs, and eccentrics who pioneered it, from the eighteenth-century French scientist Jean-Antoine Nollet to Samuel F. B. Morse and Thomas Edison. The electric telegraph nullified distance and shrank the world quicker and further than ever before or since, and its story mirrors and predicts that of the Internet in numerous ways.
In 1898, an editor named Clement K. Shorter made a list of the 100 best novels (with an additional limit of one/author).
1. Don Quixote - 1604 - Miguel de Cervantes
2. The Holy War - 1682 - John Bunyan
3. Gil Blas - 1715 - Alain René le Sage
4. Robinson Crusoe - 1719 - Daniel Defoe
5. Gulliver's Travels - 1726 - Jonathan Swift
6. Roderick Random - 1748 - Tobias Smollett
7. Clarissa - 1749 - Samuel Richardson
8. Tom Jones - 1749 - Henry Fielding
9. Candide - 1756 - Françoise de Voltaire
10. Rasselas - 1759 - Samuel Johnson
So much on there I've never even heard of. Compare this list with that of the best novels of the 20th century...how many of those novels and authors will readers be scratching their heads over in 2113? See also a contemporary list of the best books from before 1900. (via mr)
Earlier this year, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was subjected to a review by the Board of Education and was found wanting in several areas.
Pupils at Hogwarts have access to a reasonably wide range of esoteric qualifications, suited to its key demographic. As an independent school, it does not have to follow the National Curriculum closely; however, it is disappointing to note that basic requirements such as English, Mathematics and Religious Education are all lacking or entirely missing from the school's syllabus. This has had adverse effects on all students, many of whom have never even been taught basic KS1 or 2 literacy. A few students have attended state or independent primary schools, and these students typically perform very well in contrast to their peers.
The majority of students appear to be under-performing, with most pupils struggling in all their lessons, most of which appear to be set at too challenging a level. One particular class, which seemed to be based on A-Level chemistry, proved too difficult for even the most proficient students. Only one pupil managed to complete the lesson objectives, mainly thanks to his use of an annotated text book.
Hmm, this looks interesting: an upcoming book on the science of booze written by Adam Rogers.
In Proof, Adam Rogers reveals alcohol as a miracle of science, going deep into the pleasures of making and drinking booze-and the effects of the latter. The people who make and sell alcohol may talk about history and tradition, but alcohol production is really powered by physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry, and a bit of metallurgy-and our taste for those products is a melding of psychology and neurobiology.
Proof takes readers from the whisky-making mecca of the Scottish Highlands to the oenology labs at UC Davis, from Kentucky bourbon country to the most sophisticated gene-sequencing labs in the world -- and to more than one bar -- bringing to life the motley characters and evolving science behind the latest developments in boozy technology.
Rogers wrote the piece about the mystery whiskey fungus I linked to a couple of years ago.
In New York Magazine this week, Mike Tyson writes about growing up in Brooklyn and his discovery of boxing as a way out and up.
Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, "Hey, you got any money?" I said, "No." He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, "No, no, no!" I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn't get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That's a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.
The piece is adapted from Tyson's upcoming memoir, Undisputed Truth. Tyson wrote the book with Larry Sloman, author of Reefer Madness who has also ghostwritten for Howard Stern, Anthony Kiedis, and KISS's Peter Criss.
Update: Spike Lee directed a documentary version of Undisputed Truth; it'll air on HBO on November 16. Here's the trailer:
Matt Zoller Seitz is doing a video essay series based on his new book, The Wes Anderson Collection. The first two installments, on Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, are already up:
I love what he says about Rushmore:
There are few perfect movies. This is one of them.
The book and video essays came about because Anderson saw Seitz's earlier video essay series, The Substance of Style, an examination of Anderson's stylistic influences. Great resource for fans of Anderson and film.
As a belated recognition of Exploration Day, here's Charles C. Mann's piece on the history of the Americas before Columbus: 1491. This piece blew my doors off when I first read it.
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought-an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact.
This article spawned a book of the same name, which is one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the past decade.
In a book called All Things Considered published in 1915, G.K. Chesterton deftly skewers the glut of books by gurus, articles linked to from Hacker News, and conference talks by entrepreneurs about how to be successful.
That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation-how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.
It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners.
That Chesterton's observations ring so true today is not an accident. The last time income inequality in the US was as high as it is today? The 1910s and 1920s. (via mustapha abiola)
Sadly, most infographics these days look like this, functioning as a cheap and easy way to gussy up numbers. But when done properly, infographics are very effective in communicating a lot of information in a short period of time and can help you see data in new ways. In The Best American Infographics 2013, Gareth Cook collects some of the best ones from over the past year. Wired has a look at some of the selections.
Out today is The Wes Anderson Collection (at Amazon), a coffee-table book about Wes Anderson's career.
The Wes Anderson Collection is the first in-depth overview of Anderson's filmography, guiding readers through his life and career. Previously unpublished photos, artwork, and ephemera complement a book-length conversation between Anderson and award-winning critic Matt Zoller Seitz. The interview and images are woven together in a meticulously designed book that captures the spirit of his films: melancholy and playful, wise and childish -- and thoroughly original.
Vulture has an excerpt of the chapter on The Royal Tenenbaums.
Q: Gene Hackman - it was always your dream for him to play Royal?
A: It was written for him against his wishes.
Q: I'm gathering he was not an easy person to get.
A: He was difficult to get.
Q: What were his hesitations? Did he ever tell you?
A: Yeah: no money. He's been doing movies for a long time, and he didn't want to work sixty days on a movie. I don't know the last time he had done a movie where he had to be there for the whole movie and the money was not good. There was no money. There were too many movie stars, and there was no way to pay. You can't pay a million dollars to each actor if you've got nine movie stars or whatever it is - that's half the budget of the movie. I mean, nobody's going to fund it anymore, so that means it's scale.
That's right, Gene Hackman (and probably the rest of them as well) worked for scale on The Royal Tenenbaums.
Anderson also talks about the scene in The Darjeeling Limited where they show everyone on the train:
Q: When you turn to reveal the tiger, what is that, the other side of the train?
A: No, it's all one car. We gutted a car, and that is a fake forest that we built on the train, and it is a Jim Henson creature on our train car. The whole thing is one take, and I think because we did it that way, while we were doing it, we did feel this electricity, you know? There's tension in it because it's all real. Fake but real. I mean, that was the idea. The emotion of it, well -- there's nothing really happening in the scene, you know? They just kind of sit there, but it was a real thing that was happening. But I did at the time have this feeling like "I don't know."
Even if it's fake, it's real.
In what appears to be an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein's new book on the Apple/Google mobile rivalry, a piece from the NY Times Magazine on how the iPhone went from conception to launch. That the Macworld keynote/demo of the phone went off so well is amazing and probably even a bit lucky.
The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn't play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called "the golden path," a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, all manner of last-minute workarounds were required to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day, the software that ran Grignon's radios still had bugs. So, too, did the software that managed the iPhone's memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs demanded the demo phones include would make these problems worse.
Here's video of Jobs' presentation that day:
According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL "conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage".
Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league's own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.
Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.
Huh, Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Here's the synopsis:
Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David's victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn't have won.
Or should he have?
In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.
Tyler Cowen liked it:
Take the book's central message to be "here's how to think more deeply about what you are seeing." To be sure, this is not a book for econometricians, but it so unambiguously improves the quality of the usual public debates, in addition to entertaining and inspiring and informing us, I am very happy to recommend it to anyone who might be tempted.
Christopher Chabris at the Wall Street Journal was not so kind:
One thing "David and Goliath" shows is that Mr. Gladwell has not changed his own strategy, despite serious criticism of his prior work. What he presents are mostly just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior, but what his publisher sells them as, and what his readers may incorrectly take them for, are lawful, causal rules that explain how the world really works. Mr. Gladwell should acknowledge when he is speculating or working with thin evidentiary soup. Yet far from abandoning his hand or even standing pat, Mr. Gladwell has doubled down. This will surely bring more success to a Goliath of nonfiction writing, but not to his readers.
I enjoy Gladwell's writing and am able to take it with the proper portion of salt...I read (and write about) most pop science as science fiction: good for thinking about things in novel ways but not so great for basing your cancer treatment on. I skipped Outliers but maybe I should give this one a try?
The documentary Room 237 doesn't sound like it's about any of the things I like about Stanley Kubrick's films, especially The Shining. But Stephen King reminds us that he doesn't like The Shining either, and for better reasons than novelists usually give when talking about movies based on their books:
Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she's basically just there to scream and be stupid and that's not the woman that I wrote about.
Wendy's best moments in the film are when she's not that thing, but yeah, she's mostly that thing.
But at the same time King is bothered by one of the things that is actually super-distinctive and weirdly compelling about Kubrick, fucked up as that dude clearly was:
I'm not a cold guy. I think one of the things people relate to in my books is this warmth, there's a reaching out and saying to the reader, "I want you to be a part of this." With Kubrick's The Shining I felt that it was very cold, very "We're looking at these people, but they're like ants in an anthill, aren't they doing interesting things, these little insects."
So wait, why is Stephen King talking about The Shining? Because he has a sequel to the book, just out today, called Doctor Sleep. It's about Daniel Torrance, the little boy from the novel. It follows him through his childhood, and now he's all grown up.
Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep."
"Aided by a prescient cat"! Oh, whoever at Studio Ghibli becomes the anointed heir of Hayao Miyazaki, please give us a warm, weird, spooky film version of this. This book trailer isn't doing it for me.
King's BBC interview is better. Besides Kubrick's movie, he talks about how The Shining was in retrospect a way for him to autobiographically work through his own drinking problems and resentment for literary fiction.
Paul Bogard recently published a book on darkness called The End of Night. Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Bogard about the book, the night sky, astronomy, security, cities, and prisons, among other things. The interview is interesting throughout but one of my favorite things is this illustration of the Bortle scale.
Twilley: It's astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!
Bogard: It is. There's a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That's not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I've been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can't have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.
A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it's bright. That's the great thing-the darker it gets, if it's clear, the brighter the night is. That's something we never see either, because it's so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.
I can also recommend reading David Owen's 2007 NYer piece on light pollution.
Robin Nagle, the Anthropologist in Residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation, recently wrote a book about the city's sanitation department. Collectors Weekly has an interview with Nagle about the book and sanitation in general.
Waring also dressed the workers in white, and even his wife said, 'What, are you crazy?' But he wanted them to be associated with notions of hygiene. Of course, those in the medical profession wore white, and he understood, quite rightly, that it was an issue of public health and hygiene to keep the street clean. He also put them in the helmets that the police wore to signify authority, and they quickly were nicknamed the White Wings.
These men became heroes because, for the first time in anyone's memory, they actually cleaned the city. It was a very bright day in the history of the department. Waring was only in office for three years, but after he left, nobody could use the old excuses that Tammany had used to dodge the issue of waste management. They had always said it was too crowded, with too many diverse kinds of people, and never mind that London and Paris and Philadelphia and Boston cleaned their streets. New York was different and it just couldn't be done. Waring proved them wrong. Rates of preventable disease went down. Mortality rates went down. It also had a ripple effect across all different areas of the city.
Now, NYC is not the cleanest city in the world, not by a long-shot, but it used to be so much worse. In the early 1890s, the streets were literally covered in trash because the Department of Street Cleaning (as it was known then) was so inept; look at the difference made by a 1895 reorganization of the department:
The book trailer for Thomas Pynchon's new novel is either brilliant or the dumbest thing ever.
Fun fact: the phrase "I don't even" was invented to react to this video. (via @GreatDismal)
I took a Greek and Roman literature class in college. Among the texts we studied was Lucretius' On The Nature of Things. Shamefully, about the only thing I remembered from it was that the poem was an early articulation of the concept of atoms (see also Democritus). Impressive, chatting about atoms in 50 BCE. But reading Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve has reminded me what an impressive and prescient document it is, quite apart from its beauty as a poem. In chapter eight of his book, Greenblatt summarizes the main points of Lucretius' poem:
Everything is made of invisible particles.
The elementary particles of matter -- "the seeds of things" -- are eternal.
The elementary particles are infinite in number but limited in shape and size.
All particles are in motion in an infinite void.
The universe has no creator or designer.
Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve.
[Ok, the swerve deserves a bit of explanation. Here's Greenblatt:
If all the individual particles, in their infinite numbers, fell through the void in straight lines, pulled down by their own weight like raindrops, nothing would ever exist. But the particles do no move lockstep in a preordained single direction. Instead, "at absolutely unpredictable time and places they deflect slightly from their straight course, to a degree that could be described as no more than a shift of movement." The position of the elementary particles is thus indeterminate.
I can't help but think of quantum mechanics here. Anyway, back to the list.]
The swerve is the source of free will.
Nature ceaselessly experiments.
The universe was not created for or about humans.
Humans are not unique.
Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquility and plenty, but in a primitive battle for survival.
The soul dies.
There is no afterlife.
Death is nothing to us.
All organized religions are superstitious delusions.
Religions are invariably cruel.
There are no angels, demons, or ghosts.
The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.
Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.
The seeds of atomic theory, quantum mechanics, evolution, agnosticism, atheism...they're all right there, in a poem written by a man who died more than 2000 years ago.
If you're at all interested in the Pioneer Anomaly (and you really should be, it's fascinating), The Pioneer Detectives ebook by Konstantin Kakaes looks interesting.
Explore one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time, the Pioneer Anomaly: in the 1980s, NASA scientists detected an unknown force acting on the spacecraft Pioneer 10, the first man-made object to journey through the asteroid belt and study Jupiter, eventually leaving the solar system. No one seemed able to agree on a cause. (Dark matter? Tensor-vector-scalar gravity? Collisions with gravitons?) What did seem clear to those who became obsessed with it was that the Pioneer Anomaly had the potential to upend Einstein and Newton -- to change everything we know about the universe.
Kakaes was a science writer for The Economist and studied physics at Harvard, so this topic seems right up his alley. Available for $2.99 for the Kindle and for iBooks on iOS.
Sabine Heinlein follows several people through a post-prison jobs program to see how ex-convicts prepare for re-entry into the workforce.
In prison Angel thought that it wouldn't be too hard to find a job once he got out. He believed he had come a long way. At eighteen he hadn't been able to read or write. He wet his bed and suffered from uncontrollable outbursts of anger. At forty-seven he had studied at the college level. He told me he had read several thousand books. He earned numerous certificates while incarcerated -- a Vocational Appliance Repair Certificate, a Certificate of Proficiency of Computer Operator, a Certificate in Library Training, an IPA (Inmate Program Assistant) II Training Certificate, and several welding certifications -- but in the outside world these credentials counted for little.
"Irrelevant," Angel said. "They might as well be toilet paper."
This piece is the seventh chapter from Heinlein's book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison.
In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Through the story of one man's experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.
Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh's testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun -- Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence -- and ask to see one of the family's rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a "throwaway phone" and take pictures to confirm she was dead.
Update: Zeitoun was found not guilty.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.
Details are scarce and publication is months away, but hotshot book designer Peter Mendelsund is coming out with a book called Cover. I bet it will contain a collection of his covers. Or will be about covers. Or something. But I love book covers so whatever it is, I am covered.
Even as a religious watcher of SNL in high school and into college, I had no idea Jack Handey was a real person until much later. So this profile of him comes in handy (ahem).
This idea -- the notion of real jokes and the existence of pure comedy -- came up again and again when I asked other writers about Handey. It seemed as if to them Handey is not just writing jokes but trying to achieve some kind of Platonic ideal of the joke form. "There is purity to his comedy," Semple said. "His references are all grandmas and Martians and cowboys. It's so completely free from topical references and pop culture that I feel like everyone who's gonna make a Honey Boo Boo joke should do some penance and read Jack Handey."
"For a lot of us, he was our favorite writer, and the one we were most in awe of," said James Downey, who wrote for "S.N.L." "When I was head writer there, my policy was just to let him do his thing and to make sure that nothing got in the way of him creating."
"He was the purest writer," Franken said. "It was pure humor, it wasn't topical at all. It was Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer."
Handey's first novel is out today: The Stench of Honolulu. (via df)
Adapted from Brett Martin's Difficult Men, this piece in Slate gives a glimpse of what it was like on the set of The Wire.
In the isolated hothouse of Baltimore, immersed in the world of the streets, the cast of The Wire showed a bizarre tendency to mirror its onscreen characters in ways that took a toll on its members' outside lives: Lance Reddick, who played the ramrod-straight Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, tormented by McNulty's lack of discipline, had a similarly testy relationship with West, who would fool around and try to make Reddick crack up during his camera takes. Gilliam and Lombardozzi, much like Herc and Carver, would spend the bulk of Seasons 2 and 3 exiled to the periphery of the action, stewing on stakeout in second-unit production and eventually lobbying to be released from their contracts.
Oh, McNutty. (thx, sam)
Malcolm Gladwell on economist Albert Hirschman, who embraced the roles of adversity, anxiety, and failure in creativity and success.
"The Principle of the Hiding Hand," one of Hirschman's many memorable essays, drew on an account of the Troy-Greenfield "folly," and then presented an even more elaborate series of paradoxes. Hirschman had studied the enormous Karnaphuli Paper Mills, in what was then East Pakistan. The mill was built to exploit the vast bamboo forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But not long after the mill came online the bamboo unexpectedly flowered and then died, a phenomenon now known to recur every fifty years or so. Dead bamboo was useless for pulping; it fell apart as it was floated down the river. Because of ignorance and bad planning, a new, multimillion-dollar industrial plant was suddenly without the raw material it needed to function.
But what impressed Hirschman was the response to the crisis. The mill's operators quickly found ways to bring in bamboo from villages throughout East Pakistan, building a new supply chain using the country's many waterways. They started a research program to find faster-growing species of bamboo to replace the dead forests, and planted an experimental tract. They found other kinds of lumber that worked just as well. The result was that the plant was blessed with a far more diversified base of raw materials than had ever been imagined. If bad planning hadn't led to the crisis at the Karnaphuli plant, the mill's operators would never have been forced to be creative. And the plant would not have been nearly as valuable as it became.
"We may be dealing here with a general principle of action," Hirschman wrote, "Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be."
Gladwell's piece is based on Jeremy Adelman's recent biography of Hirschman, Worldly Philosopher.
Here are pair of articles by Tom Standage, drawn from his forthcoming book on the 2,000-year history of social media, Writing on the Wall. In Share it like Cicero, Standage writes about how Roman authors used social networking to spread and publish their work.
One of the stories I tell in "Writing on the Wall" is about the way the Roman book-trade worked. There were no printing presses, so copying of books, which took the form of multiple papyrus rolls, was done entirely by hand, by scribes, most of whom were slaves. There were no formal publishers either, so Roman authors had to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and social distribution of their works via their networks of friends and acquaintances.
In the late 1600s, a particularly effective social networking tool arose in England: the coffeehouse.
Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world. England's first coffeehouse opened in Oxford in the early 1650s, and hundreds of similar establishments sprang up in London and other cities in the following years. People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, but to read and discuss the latest pamphlets and news-sheets and to catch up on rumor and gossip.
Coffeehouses were also used as post offices. Patrons would visit their favorite coffeehouses several times a day to check for new mail, catch up on the news and talk to other coffee drinkers, both friends and strangers. Some coffeehouses specialized in discussion of particular topics, like science, politics, literature or shipping. As customers moved from one to the other, information circulated with them.
Standage previously wrote about the European coffeehouse in A History of the World in 6 Glasses.
An excerpt from Daniel Dennett's new book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, outlines seven of Dennett's tools for thinking. His second tool is "respect your opponent":
The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one's opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.
How to compose a successful critical commentary:
1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."
2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
In an essay that covers similar ground to Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From, David Galbraith offers an interesting perspective on maximizing your creative potential.
I remember the very instant that I learned to be creative, to 'invent' things, to do things in an interesting and unusual way, and it happened by accident, literally.
I created mess around myself, the kind of chaos that would be very dangerous in an operating theater but which is synonymous with artists' studios, and in that mess I edited the accidents. By increasing the amount of mess I had freed things up and increased the possibilities, I had maximised the adjacent possible and was able to create the appearance of inventing new things by editing the mistakes which appeared novel and interesting.
The adjacent possible is one of those ideas that, once you hear it, you want to apply to everything around you.
In a book called Three Felonies A Day, Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate says that everyone in the US commits felonies everyday and if the government takes a dislike to you for any reason, they'll dig in and find a felony you're guilty of.
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to "white collar criminals," state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
In response to a question about what happens to big company CEOs who refuse to go along with government surveillance requests, John Gilmore offers a case study in what Silverglate is talking about.
We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things.
This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.
You combine this with the uber-surveillance allegedly being undertaken by the NSA and other governmental agencies and you've got a system for more or less automatically accusing any US citizen of a felony. Free society, LOL ROFLcopter.
Update: For the past two years, the Wall Street Journal has been "examining the vastly expanding federal criminal law book and its consequences". (thx, jesse)
From a passage of Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard, the three types of specialists needed for the success of any revolution.
Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening team with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.
The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.
The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius -- a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. "A genius working alone," he says, "is invariably ignored as a lunatic."
The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. "A person like this working alone," says Slazinger, "can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be."
The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. "He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting," says Slazinger. "Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey."
Slazinger, high as a kite, says that every successful revolution, including Abstract Expressionism, the one I took part in, had that cast of characters at the top -- Pollock being the genius in our case, Lenin being the one in Russia's, Christ being the one in Christianity's.
He says that if you can't get a cast like that together, you can forget changing anything in a great big way.
In this morning's NY Times, Angelina Jolie writes about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy to hopefully ward off cancer.
My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.
We often speak of "Mommy's mommy," and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a "faulty" gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
It happens that just last night I read about the BRCA-1 gene in Siddhartha Mukhergee's excellent biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies. This part is right near the end of the book:
Like cancer prevention, cancer screening will also be reinvigorated by the molecular understanding of cancer. Indeed, it has already been. The discovery of the BRCA genes for breast cancer epitomizes the integration of cancer screening and cancer genetics. In the mid-1990s, building on the prior decade's advances, researchers isolated two related genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, that vastly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. A woman with an inherited mutation in BRCA-1 has a 50 to 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime (the gene also increases the risk for ovarian cancer), about three to five times the normal risk. Today, testing for this gene mutation has been integrated into prevention efforts. Women found positive for a mutation in the two genes are screened more intensively using more sensitive imaging techniques such as breast MRI. Women with BRCA mutations might choose to take the drug tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer, a strategy shown effective in clinical trials. Or, perhaps most radically, women with BRCA mutations might choose a prophylactic mastectomy of both breasts and ovaries before cancer develops, another strategy that dramatically decreases the chances of developing breast cancer.
Radical is an understatement...what a tough and brave decision to make. Again from the book, I liked this woman's take on it:
An Israeli woman with a BRCA-1 mutation who chose this strategy after developing cancer in one breast told me that at least part of her choice was symbolic. "I am rejecting cancer from my body," she said. "My breasts had become no more to me than a site for my cancer. They were of no more use to me. They harmed my body, my survival. I went to the surgeon and asked him to remove them."
The genetic testing company 23andme screens for three common types of mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes:
Five to 10 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a genetic predisposition for the disease, usually due to mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. These mutations greatly increase not only the risk for breast cancer in women, but also the risk for ovarian cancer in women as well as prostate and breast cancer among men. Hundreds of cancer-associated BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have been documented, but three specific BRCA mutations are worthy of note because they are responsible for a substantial fraction of hereditary breast cancers and ovarian cancers among women with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. The three mutations have also been found in individuals not known to have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, but such cases are rare.
23andme testing kits are only $99.
Update: Two things. First, and I hope this isn't actually necessary because you are all intelligent people who can read things and make up your own minds, but let me just state for the official record that you should never never never never NEVER take medical advice, inferred or otherwise, from celebrities or bloggers. Come on, seriously. If you're concerned, go see a doctor.
Two: I have no idea what the $99 23andme test covers with regard to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations beyond what the company states. The most comprehensive test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations was developed by a company called Myriad Genetics and costs about $3000. Myriad has patented the genes, a decision that has been sharply criticized and is currently being decided by the Supreme Court.
But many doctors, patients and scientists aren't happy with the situation.
Some are offended by the very notion that a private company can own a patent based on a gene that was invented not by researchers in a lab but by Mother Nature. Every single cell in every single person has copies of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Myriad officials say they deserves the patent because they invested a great deal of money to figure out the sequence and develop "synthetic molecules" based on that sequence that can be used to test the variants in a patient.
"We think it is right for a company to be able to own its discoveries, earn back its investment, and make a reasonable profit," the company wrote on its blog.
I do know the 23andme test covers something related to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations...a friend of a friend did the 23andme test, tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation, and decided to have a preventive double mastectomy after consulting her doctor and further tests. (thx, mark, allison, and ★spavis)
We all know that art forgeries are just cheap rip-offs of real art. What Jonathan Keats' new book presupposes is, maybe they're not?
Forgers are the foremost artists of our age.
I'm not talking about the objects they make. Their real art is to con us into accepting the works as authentic. They do so, inevitably, by finding our blind spots, and by exploiting our common-sense assumptions. When they're caught (if they're caught), the scandal that ensues is their accidental masterpiece. Learning that we've been defrauded makes us anxious -- much more so than any painting ever could -- provoking us to examine our poor judgment. This effect is inescapable, since we certainly didn't ask to be duped. A forgery is more direct, more powerful, and more universal than any legitimate artwork.
See also Uncreative Writing, fake is the new real, even if it's fake it's real, and this paragraph from Joe Posnanski's piece on pitching phenoms:
You have to understand that to a boy of the 1970s, the line between comic books and real life people was hopelessly blurred. Was Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, real or fake? Fake? Well, then, how about Evel Knievel jumping over busses on his motorcycle? Oh, he was real. The Superman ads said, "You will believe a man can fly," and Fonzie started jukeboxes by simply hitting them, and Elvis Presley wore capes, and Nolan Ryan threw pitches 102 mph, and Roger Staubach (who they called Captain America) kept bringing the Cowboys back from certain defeat, and Muhammad Ali let George Foreman tire himself out by leaning against the ropes and taking every punch he could throw. What was real anyway?
James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, wrote about what was right and wrong about Reddit's crowdsourced hunt for the Boston bombing suspects.
The truth is that if Reddit is actually interested in using the power of its crowd to help the authorities, it needs to dramatically rethink its approach, because the process it used to try to find the bombers wasn't actually tapping the wisdom of crowds at all -- at least not as I would define that wisdom. For a crowd to be smart, the people in it need to be not only diverse in their perspectives but also, relatively speaking, independent of each other. In other words, you need people to be thinking for themselves, rather than following the lead of those around them.
When the book came out in 2004, I wrote a short post that summarizes the four main conditions you need for a wise crowd. What's striking about most social media and software, as Surowiecki notes in the case of Reddit, is how most of these conditions are not satisfied. There's little diversity and independence: Twitter and Facebook mostly show you people who are like you and things your social group is into. And social media is becoming ever more centralized: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Pinterest, etc. instead of a decentralized network of independent blogs. In fact, the nature of social media is to be centralized, peer-dependent, and homogeneous because that's how people naturally group themselves together. It's a wonder the social media crowd ever gets anything right.
UMass Dartmouth is reporting that "a person being sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing has been identified as a student registered at UMass Dartmouth":
I don't know that there's any verified report that registered student is bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but I found a blog post from August 2011 that suggests that Tsarnaev was participating in the school's summer reading program for incoming first-year students. The students were participating in a group discussion blog while reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The post in question was written by UMass Dartmouth English teacher Shelagh Smith on the concept of thin-slicing as it pertained to the case of the West Memphis Three. The post reads, in part:
I believe that thin slicing put them in jail. It helped an entire community make a rash decision and justify their actions in convicting three teens of murder. Once the town was able to identify the bogeyman, they could rest easy again.
But it all went horribly wrong. The real murderers were never found. These young men went into prison at 18 years old. Today, they walked out at 36 years old.
Being different - being unique - is a right we're supposed to enjoy in this country. But what we can't control is how people view us.
So what do we do about that? Is there anything we can do about it?
In response, a commenter listing his name as "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev" posted the following about a week and a half after the original posting:
In this case it would have been hard to protect or defend these young boys if the whole town exclaimed in happiness at the arrest. Also, to go against the authorities isn't the easiest thing to do. Don't get me wrong though, I am appalled at the situation but I think that the town was scared and desperate to blame someone. It's because of stories like this and such occurrences that make a positive change in this world. I'm pretty sure there won't be anymore similar tales like this. In any case, if they do, people won't stand quiet, i hope.
Tsarnaev also made another comment in another thread on the blog a few minutes earlier in which he offered a critique of Gladwell's book:
While I understand and agree with most of the concepts that Gladwell explained in his book, there are several ideas of his that I cannot fathom or just choose not to believe. Yes, this book was very interesting but the idea that a person can predict whether you and your partner are going to be together in the future is honestly a little hard to believe. Sure, if you put two obvious celebrities in a room talking about how they're going to adopt six children, that's just not going to work out. And the idea that a more experienced doctor is more likely to be sued is likely to happen because they would have way more patients and more time in the work force. "Thin-slicing" and other concepts made me want to keep reading.
I'm currently reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (which is excellent) and I'm up to the chapters on prevention, specifically the prevention of lung cancer through reduction of cigarette smoking. I had no idea cigarette smoking was so uncommon in the US as recently as 1870...but we caught up quickly.
In 1870, the per capita consumption in America was less than one cigarette per year. A mere thirty years later, Americans were consuming 3.5 billion cigarettes and 6 billion cigars every year. By 1953, the average annual consumption of cigarettes had reached thirty-five hundred per person. On average, an adult American smoked ten cigarettes every day, an average Englishman twelve, and a Scotsman nearly twenty.
For some context on that 3500/yr per person number (and the unbelievable 7000/yr Scottish rate), the current rate in the US is around 1000/yr and the highest current rate in the world is in Serbia at almost 2900/yr per person.
If the advertising parts of Mad Men are your favorite bits of the show, might I recommend Taschen's two-volume Mid-Century Ads (on Amazon).
It's a beautiful set of books, tons of ads from the 50s and 60s presented in large format.
Excerpted from a book called The Art of Making Magazines, a piece on how fact-checking works at the New Yorker.
So that was the old New Yorker. The biggest difference between David Remnick's New Yorker today and the Shawn New Yorker is timeliness. During the Shawn years, book reviews ran months, even years out of sync with publication dates. Writers wrote about major issues without any concern for news pegs or what was going on in the outside world. That was the way people thought, and it was really the way the whole editorial staff was tuned.
All this changed when Tina Brown arrived. Whereas before, editorial schedules were predictable for weeks or a month in advance, under Tina we began getting 8,000-, 10,000-, 12,000-word pieces in on a Thursday that were to close the following Wednesday. But something else changed in a way that is more important. Prior to Tina, the magazine really had been writer-driven, and I think this is why they gave the writers so much liberty. They wanted the writers to develop their own, often eccentric, interests.
Under Tina, writing concepts began to originate in editors' meetings, and assignments were given out to writers who were essentially told what to write. And a lot of what the editors wanted was designed to be timely and of the moment and tended to change from day to day. So the result was that we were working on pieces that were really much more controversial and much less well-formulated than anything we had dealt with previously, and often we would put teams of checkers to work on these pieces and checking and editing could go on all night.
This looks beautiful: A Map of the World is a collection of maps by illustrators and storytellers. I've featured at least a few of the maps in the book here on kottke.org. Here's a sample:
You can see more of the maps in the book on the publisher's web site. (via raul, who says "This book is insanely beautiful. Buy it if you love maps. It will make you happy.")
In the pages of Sidereus Nuncius, Galileo described the four large moons of Jupiter in a series of 64 sketches which looked a lot like ASCII art in the text:
Using an online tool for computing the positions of Jupiter's moons, Ernie Wright compared Galileo's sketches to the moons' actual motions.
Click through for an animated GIF of all the comparisons. Not bad for the telescopic state of the art in 1610. For a taste of how celestial objects actually appeared when viewed through Galileo's telescope, check out this video starting around 7:30. (thx, john)
This story by Kevin Guilfoile about his aging father (who worked for the Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame) and the mystery of what happened to the bat that Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit with is one of my favorite things that I've read over the past few months.
[My father's] personality is present, if his memories are a jumble. He is still funny, and surprisingly quick with one-liners to crack up the staff at the facility where he lives. He is exceedingly polite, same as he ever was. He is good at faking a casual conversation, especially on the phone. But if you sit and talk with him for a long time, he gets very anxious. He starts tapping his forehead with his fingers. "Shouldn't we be going?" he'll say. You tell him there's no place we need to be, but 30 seconds later he'll ask again, "Shouldn't we be going?"
What happens to memories when they're collapsed inside time like this? They don't exactly disappear, they just become impossible to unpack. And so my father, who loved stories so much -- who loved to tell them, who loved to hear them -- can no longer comprehend them. The structure of any story, after all, is that this happened and then that happened, and he can't make sense of any sequence.
That is the real hell of this disease. His own identity has become a puzzle he can't solve.
Objects have stories, too. Puzzles that need to be solved. Like a pair of baseball bats, for instance, that each passed through Roberto Clemente's hands before they passed through my father's. One hung on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. The other is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
These objects never forget, but they never tell their stories, either.
Without a little bit of luck, we'd never hear them.
Or more than a little luck:
My father has lots of old baseball bats given to him by players he worked with over the years. He has Mickey Mantle bats from his years with the Yankees, and Willie Stargell and Dave Parker bats from his days with the Pirates. The one I always loved best was an Adirondack model with R CLEMENTE embossed in modest block letters, instead of the usual signature burned into the barrel. On the bottom of the knob, Roberto had written a tiny "37" in ballpoint pen, presumably to indicate its weight: 37 ounces. It also had a series of scrapes around the middle where someone had scratched off the trademark stripe that encircled all Adirondack bats. Former Pirates GM Joe Brown gave my dad this bat several years after Roberto died. For much of my childhood it hung on the wall of my bedroom, on a long rack with about a dozen other game-used bats.
My dad had been working at the Hall of Fame for more than a decade when, in 1993, his old friend Tony Bartirome, a one-time Pirates infielder who had become their longtime trainer, came to Cooperstown for a visit. Tony and his wife went to dinner with my folks and then came back to our house to chat. The only way to go to the first-floor washroom in that house was through my old bedroom, and on a trip there, Tony noticed that Adirondack of Clemente's hanging on the wall.
Tony carried it into the living room. He said to Dad, "Where did you get this bat?" My dad told him that Joe Brown had given him the bat as a gift, sometime in the late '70s. "Bill," Tony said. "This is the bat Roberto used to get his 3,000th hit."
My father was confused by this. "That's impossible," he told Tony. "The day he hit 3,000 I went down to the clubhouse, and Roberto himself handed me the bat he used. I sent it to the Hall of Fame. I walk by it every day."
"Well," Tony said. "I have a story to tell you."
It's a wonderful story, read the whole thing. Or get the book: the story is excerpted from Guilfoile's A Drive into the Gap, available here or for the Kindle.
Matt Kahn is reading every bestselling novel from each of the past 100 years.
For this blog I plan, among other things, to read and review every novel to reach the number one spot on Publishers Weekly annual bestsellers list, starting in 1913. Beyond just a book review, I'm going to provide some information on the authors and the time at which these books were written in an attempt to figure out just what made these particular books popular at that particular time.
A few things. The Silmarillion?! Was the top selling book in 1977? John Grisham appears on the list 11 different times; the guy is a machine. And it's interesting to see when popularity and critical acclaim part ways, when the Roths, le Carrés, and E.L. Doctorows give way to the Clancys, Grishams, and Dan Browns.
According to Penguin's year-end financial report, Thomas Pynchon's next novel will deal with "Silicon Alley between dotcom boom collapse and 9/11". The title is Bleeding Edge.
Nassim Taleb asserts that, on average, old technologies have longer life expectancies than younger technologies, which helps explain why books are still around and CD-ROM magazines aren't.
For example: Let's assume the sole information I have about a gentleman is that he is 40 years old, and I want to predict how long he will live. I can look at actuarial tables and find his age-adjusted life expectancy as used by insurance companies. The table will predict he has an extra 44 years to go; next year, when he turns 41, he will have a little more than 43 years to go.
For a perishable human, every year that elapses reduces his life expectancy by a little less than a year.
The opposite applies to non-perishables like technology and information. If a book has been in print for 40 years, I can expect it to be in print for at least another 40 years. But -- and this is the main difference -- if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another 50 years.
This is adapted from Taleb's recent book, Antifragile. Anyone read this yet? I really liked The Black Swan.
Sesame Street did a series of tweets the other day in the style of The Monster at the End of This Book, which is a favorite of mine and my kids.
Grover: That tweet, did it say there was a MONSTER at the end of it?
Grover: It did? Well, please do not retweet that tweet!
Grover: YOU RETWEETED THE TWEET!
In a new ebook called Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever published by The Millions, Mark O'Connell traces the history of futile culture-making.
In this original e-book from the online magazine The Millions, Mark O'Connell, one of our funniest and most adroit young literary critics, sets out to answer these questions. He uncovers the historical context for our affinity for terrible art, tracing it back to Shakespeare and discovering the early-20th-century novelist who was dinner-party fodder for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He tracks the ascendancy of a once esoteric phenomenon into the mainstream, where "what Marshall McLuhan famously referred to as the Global Village now anoints a new Global Village Idiot every other week." He offers in-depth accounts of Rebecca Black, Tommy Wiseau, and the "Monkey Jesus"... and he probes the roots of his own obsession with terrible art. In this charming and insightful investigation into why we laugh, O'Connell not only spins a good tale, but he emerges as our leading analyst of the "so bad it's good" phenomenon. And his discoveries may make you think twice the next time someone passes along a link to the latest, greatest "Epic Fail."
Here's an excerpt.
Tom Standage's upcoming book, which we have to unfairly wait until October for, is called Writing on the Wall: Social Media -- The First Two Thousand Years.
Papyrus rolls and Twitter have much in common: They were their generation's signature means of "instant" communication. Indeed, as Tom Standage reveals in his scintillating new book, social media is anything but a new phenomenon. From the papyrus letters that Cicero and other Roman statesmen used to exchange news across the Empire to the rise of hand-printed tracts of the Reformation to the pamphlets that spread propaganda during the American and French revolutions, Standage chronicles the increasingly sophisticated ways people shared information with each other, spontaneously and organically, down the centuries.
I kinda wish he would have called it The Victorian Internet 2: Electric Boogaloo. A couple of excerpts/adaptations from the book have already made it out into the world: social networking in 17th century English coffeehouses and how Martin Luther's message went viral.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins signs a contract with a company of dwarves to serve as their burglar in their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a dragon. Lawyer James Daily analyzed the contract in detail for Wired.
Even in the book's version we see an issue: the dwarves accept Bilbo's "offer" but then proceed to give terms. This is not actually an acceptance but rather a counter-offer, since they're adding terms. In the end it doesn't matter because Bilbo effectively accepts the counter-offer by showing up and rendering his services as a burglar, but the basic point is that the words of a contract do not always have the legal effect that they claim to have. Sometimes you have to look past the form to the substance.
See also How valid is the implied legal advice in Jay-Z's "99 Problems"?