Archive for January, 2010
To mark the reclusive writer’s passing, The New Yorker has opened up its digital archives, making available the thirteen pieces of fiction he wrote for the magazine, his longtime professional home. It appears to be a temporary move, so read them while you can.
And The Awl reminds its readers of a piece that ex-Ideas editor Jennifer Schuessler wrote last summer exploring why students don’t relate to Holden Caulfield in the way they used to.
My grandmother gave me the piggy bank when I was four, for Christmas, wrapped in a box with bows. She said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” She said, “Find a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.” She wore a beehive of blue hair, had piercing green eyes, dressed in expensive-seeming clothes. “A lady of quality,” she said. She sold Avon door to door and from the living room of her two-bedroom ranch on Lover’s Lane in Heather, Illinois. Her house smelled like honeysuckle.
Only good-luck pennies went in my piggy bank. It was the kind you had to smash to retrieve the coins, so as I accumulated them I had no idea how many pennies I had. By the time I was in my thirties it was gathering dust and heavy, substantial with the weight, but I could jiggle it and feel there was still room. I’d look at the feathery tiara and the jewel between the brow and think of all the luck the pig held.
I almost got married: here, in Heather, to a handsome guy who’d been the star of the high school football team. I hadn’t known him then, but through his smile I could see him as a teenager—gleaming white teeth—driving fast in cars with girls excited that it was their turn. Later, after we broke up, I realized those had been the best days of his life.
“I want to see how many pennies are in the jar,” he said to me that afternoon: cold, the world covered in a thick snow.
“I’m not breaking it,” I said.
“With all those pennies, there’s one worth something. There’re pennies worth thousands, you know. We could get out of here.” And he pointed out the window of my condo. I owned from the walls in, but was proud of the views—vast expectant fields.
“I’m not breaking it,” I said. “My grandmother gave it to me.”
“Your grandmother’s dead.” He picked up the pig.
“I’m not dead,” I said, hiding my worry, that he’d drop the pig to have his way.
“You’re gonna wait ‘til you’re dead to find out if you’re rich?”
“Put it down, Jimmy.” I shouldn’t have said that. He lifted the pig higher, beautiful pig. There are some people who just want to take what you’ve got. Just then he dropped it. You know the crush in your chest, its weight? The pig’s mascara eyes, they were my grandmother’s looking at me still. I lunged.
My grandmother once said to me, as I was pushing her up a hill in a wheel chair, “Amber, if we put our minds to it, we can do anything.” I soared, arms out stretched to catch it, realizing, no matter what, that pig, its luck, would always be mine.
Obviously, the iPad, like the iPhone and the iTouch before it, is a cool device. Given a windfall, I’d love to have one to play with–to read newspapers with on the bus, dig up old You Tube clips of Brian Eno in his glam days, peruse Sports Illustrated during brunch, etc.
But it is remarkable how little attention has been paid, in the coverage of Apple’s new baby, to the distinction between traditional computer displays (which the iPad relies on) and the technology used in the Kindle and other devices that Apple wants to supplant.
The Associated Press is reporting that JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, has died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire. He was 91.
In honor of J.D. Salinger, I have recorded a dramatic reading of his famous short story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which can be listened to below.
UPDATE: The Barnes & Noble Review has enlisted some folks for a Salinger tribute. My remarks can be found at the bottom.
Recently I’ve been exploring, for the first time, some pop and subcultural touchstones of the last couple of decades. It makes me feel a bit like a time traveler. Among other things, I’ve been struck by how much easier it is to create plot obstacles when personal synchronous communication devices aren’t ubiquitous. When your setting is first-world contemporary, you have to work a lot harder to explain why Character In Trouble (Variously Defined) doesn’t just freaking call, text, or IM.
[Tomorrow the auction for Mystery Object with story by Ben Greenman will conclude. When it's over, we'll reveal the object (first to the winning bidder, then to everybody else). Meanwhile, here is my case (borrowed from Murketing.com) for this as arguably the most significant Significant Object to date.]
The Significant Objects project has conclusively demonstrated that narrative adds measurable value to objects.
What does this imply about the objects themselves, and whoever created and produced them? Something I hear often from assorted gurus on design, marketing, and the like, is that consumers value the story of an object in the sense of knowing how that object was made, or designed. Did a recognized Design Genius dream it up? Is there footage of the whiteboard meetings where the genius insight was arrived at? Or: Was the object crafted by hand? Perhaps knowing more about the crafter’s skill-acquisition history, or personal ideology, adds valuable narrative.
Yet the Significant Objects project added measurable value even while explicitly ignoring such matters. Every Significant Object carries two narratives, but neither has anything to do with the kinds of stories just suggested. Instead there is the narrative invented by the writer who has agreed to create a story about whatever doodad is for sale; and, in addition, there is the story of the project itself. Probably both of these narratives add value to some extent, with specifics varying from buyer to buyer. But while most of the objects sold over the course of the project have been mass-produced, the intent of whoever designed them, whoever marketed them, and why, and how, is flagrantly disregarded, replaced with pure fiction. Arguably, Significant Objects obliterates designer/producer intent.
Still, whatever the fate of that intent, its results remain in the form of thing itself. Clearly some item sold by Significant Objects have been more intrinsically appealing than others, and it must be conceded that however much our writers’ stories increased the value of an object in the open market, the aesthetics of the object must figure in somehow.
Which brings me to a recent Significant Object: the Mystery Object, with story by Ben Greenman. In this instance, not only is the designer’s intent ignored, not only is the material backstory disregarded, the object itself is not present.
What we have is Ben Greenman’s narrative about the object, and perhaps the narrative of Significant Objects as a project — to which the addition of a non-present object of course adds yet another pleasing plot twist. By eliminating the object itself from the equation until after the bidding has concluded, this auction sells invented Significance in its purest, most uncut form yet.
In a sense, this makes the Mystery Object unique even among the project’s already-singular series of offerings; as a result, it may be the most valuable object yet, not despite its absence from the scene until the moment that value is determined, but because of that absence. Who wouldn‘t want to own such a thing — whatever it is?
Bidding stands at $28.50 $59.00.
Mainstream since the 50s, but rarely used since the early 80s craze, 3D is now expected of every major movie these days.
Why? You can’t download 3d glasses, let alone an IMAX theater. It’s the staging of an event, a singular experience. Something that cannot be so easily replicated at home.
Likewise, in 2008, I wrote a post How to Frame the Internet, calling for the staging of events online:
The problem I see in terms of editing online content seems to be the absence of “frames.” Time frames as well as frames as a metaphor: ways of segmenting information so it doesn’t overlap with other content or ideas, complementary or not. Creating scarcity when there is abundance and understanding how to work with the desire that grows in anticipation of something.
I can’t remember the comedian — I want to say someone Saturday Night Live affiliated — but he was making a point about repetition in sketch comedy. You tell a joke once and it’s funny (well, sometimes, in the case of SNL.) Tell it again, it’s not funny. Tell it a third time it’s funny again. The next several times it’s really not funny, but if you keep repeating it after ten times and keep going, each of those times the joke is funny (this is, of course, a total perversion of the law of diminishing marginal returns.)
Art filmmakers are aware of the boredom they inflict when they hold a certain shot just a moment too long. Horror films especially are cruel games of anticipation. It is agonizing to watch the girl go down the steps to the basement tiptoe after tiptoe sooooo slowwwly.
The great change we are waiting for, the one that will make newsworthy information part of one’s daily media diet is online content that will acknowledge and work around a user’s lack of patience. This means creating an event out of what is being presented… Make viewers mark in their calendars for it. Make them miss it if they miss it.
Twitter often takes this role. For the past few years, I make a point of watching the State of the Union as it airs, rather than later on in the evening, at a time more convenient to my schedule. Only then can I keep up with the tweets and status updates from friends and bloggers I follow.
In terms of segmenting information, I’m very enthusiastic about the iPad. One aspect in particular is intriguing, and it is the very aspect that annoys Gizmodo so much: No Multitasking.
This is a backbreaker. If this is supposed to be a replacement for netbooks, how can it possibly not have multitasking? Are you saying I can’t listen to Pandora while writing a document? I can’t have my Twitter app open at the same time as my browser? I can’t have AIM open at the same time as my email? Are you kidding me? This alone guarantees that I will not buy this product.
- Gizmodo, 8 Things That Suck About the iPad
Here is the slow web in effect. The opportunity to focus on the one task at hand. Combined with the intimacy of the device, we’re going to see an entirely new way of interacting with information.
It is a more reflective way, one that might even correct some of the signal-to-noise issues we’ve for so long taken as a given of the digital age. Also in 2008, I wrote about how I feel the iPhone (and now the iPad) could gradually kill off some of the more inane youtube comments. From the post Reading Only Devices: Why iPhone, Kindle, and Tablet PCs Might Mean Smarter Blog Comments:
If more and more people start reading online media on mobile phones and Kindle, the incentive to leave a comment will go down dramatically. Do you really want to save this post for later and comment in a couple hours? Or do you want to struggle with writing something on the inadequate keyboard?
We might also see growth in devices that divorce writing from reading… A computer is designed to do both things at once so you no longer even think of reading while writing as multitasking. Often times the experience of writing an email is consuming and processing at once: as the message you are writing and the message you are responding to are in the same frame. I’m not old enough to remember the conventions of handwritten letters, but I doubt my grandmother sat at her desk composing a letter to her friend with her friend’s prior letter folded above it, going line by line, making sure she’s responded to every question in sequence.
The keyboard is closer to you than the screen. Many of us scroll the screen with the same keys we compose letters. It’s wonderful in that it has made us a more literary culture, but it also means a lot of great stuff gets lost in the abundance of online text.
If Kindle becomes more popular, and more laptops start including tablets, I think users will grow accustomed to reading without having to add their .02 once they get to the end. Which means those who do, might have something really interesting to say.
I actually prefer my iPhones inability to multitask. It’s putting a constraint on me… and my worst multi-tabbing, unfocused habits. If I can’t so easily navigate to another app or another page, I won’t.
The iPad is effectively dividing two experiences: reading and writing. This means actively listening to another person’s words, and having the time to think of what to say before typing. This is better communication. This is the future.
If your ambitions are confined to nothing more than ambling up a twenty-foot hill and declaring this easily accomplished task as something special, that’s perfectly fine. I do not wish to judge. Ambition means different things to different people. But when you tread up and down a small hillock so many times, it becomes more like a flat prairie. It’s nice to saunter about a hardpan patch. There’s the comfort of the familiar, the warm faces smiling in the wind. But if you have any grandiose sense of adventure, you’re probably going to start searching about for a bigger mountain — something that requires intrepid stamina, a good deal of training and practice, one that is highly rewarding and highly challenging.
I am certainly not a mountain climber in the literal sense, and I may never take up the physical challenge (although I am known to try just about anything once). I don’t intend to forsake the metaphorical flatland, which would be this place, and I certainly don’t harbor any prejudices against one terrain or the other. I’m only trying to explain for readers who may have come to rely on this place in some small way, to which I apologize for any half-abandonment. All this is an oblique way of declaring that I’m now climbing quite an imposing mountain, and that this task, buttressed by my obstinate discipline, has forced me to cut down on numerous cultural activities. I’ve unsubscribed from enticing lists. I’ve reduced my interviewing schedule. I’ve attended very few literary events. I’ve taken on freelance work to get by, but have tried to keep this both fun and minimal. For the mountain must be climbed, the considerable crags must be explored. The mountain enters my dreams. It badgers me when I go for a walk. It sometimes keeps me up late. It haunts me. I really have no choice in the matter. It’s come to that. And I have a very kind and talented man (along with others) to thank for directing me up the ledge. The results may come to nothing, even when my journey is complete. But then I have at least two more mountains after that, another which I am now climbing as a goofy diversion from the main summit. All I can tell you is that I’m having a great deal of fun and that I have felt an unexpected calmness settle over me, save for the distressing seismic and political developments in the news that get me upset, which are strangely related to this mountain. I’ve asked friends not to forward me certain links that will spawn or instigate crazed essays, and they have kindly respected this.
Because I’m putting just about all of my emotional and mental energies into this, I’m left with little room to fill up this place with lengthy pieces. And since the present online climate demands for one to bang out multiple posts a day (or one daily post containing substance), I’m here to confess that I just don’t have that time right now. I will probably offer piecemeal posts in the interim. I did promise a slowdown not long ago. But I’ve always been committed to making everything I do fun. I certainly don’t want to slum it here or turn this place into a tedious series of roundups. Twitter has pretty much destroyed the need for any blog to maintain a series of literary links. By the time you’ve presented it on a blog, it’s already made the rounds. Unless you write something substantial about it or you have new information that nobody else has. Probably for the best. But, hey, this hasn’t really been a litblog for a while. I do have other interests.
Sure, I’m on Twitter. You can find me if you’re so inclined. But even that account will likely slow to a crawl. It’s just isn’t the same as the mountain. The energies are there. That’s what I’m doing right now.
This isn’t a hiatus. I’ll pop in here from time to time. But if weeks go by without a peep, well, you now know why. Should the mountain come to anything, I do hope you’ll take the climb with me. I’m doing my best to make it true and worth the while.
Garry Kasparov has a thoughtful and educational piece in the New York Review of Books about his transition from best chess player in the world to best human chess player in the world, and what computers mean for the future of chess. (Spoiler: Kasparov thinks chess does have a future.) Mentioned in passing is Jonathan Schaeffer’s unbeatable checkers program, Chinook. If you enjoy hopeless enterprises you can play against Chinook online.
So I haven’t been around much because I’ve been guest-blogging over at BoingBoing this week. I’m going to Florida tomorrow to give a talk and have a little beachside R&R. Looking forward to that and it’s been fun blogging on a big site, however briefly. But this is a story that is a pretty straight forward personal blog story. I’m sort of half looking for a new car. I love my car. What I really would like is a car exactly like my car but maybe a few years newer (less rust) and with a few extra features: working AC, power windows, a real cup holder and a power jack. I found the car of my dreams for sale up the street. Or I thought I did.
I have this terrible problem shopping. I have predictable buyer’s remorse. I get over it usually, but I always spend a few days hating whatever my most recent purchase was. So, I treat big purchases carefully. I am like The Kid in this Gahan Wilson cartoon which has become a metaphor for eveything I have ever bought. So, there was this car for sale. I took it for a test drive. It was lovely. I work at a school with an auto shop and they will look over a potential car for free. Nice deal.
I brought the car over today and dropped it off. Thirty minutes later I stopped by as the students were taking the car down from the jack. The shop teacher said “Hey… let me show you a few things.” And it turned out that the car had a Check Engine light that was supposed to be on, but was actually missing. And a muffler repair that even I could see was sketchy. And a few things that were supposed to be connected that weren’t. He said that when he called [someone?] to ask about the Check Engine light, they said that he was supposed to call the DMV and report the seller. He left it to me to let the guy know that — even in a world of plausible deniability where he didn’t know the Check Engine bulb was gone — he’d be liable if someone figured it all out. The shop teacher thanked me for being such a good example of “Why you need to get a car checked out before you buy it.” The students got to feel all smart and helpful.
I dropped the car off at the seller’s house (he just let me take it to the mechanic and he went to work) and went back to work myself. I’m pretty sure I need to call him back. Still looking for a car with power windows, but my car’s looking pretty good right now.
Over at Hilobrow.com, a critical-culture website that I coedit with Matthew Battles, we’ve just invited our readers to enter a science-fiction short-short story contest. We’d be delighted to have Significant Objects readers enter, as well. Check it out.
CONTEST DEADLINE: February 15 (soon!)
STORY LENGTH: No more than 250 words
STORY THEME: troubled and/or troubling superhumans
THE JUDGES: Hilobrow.com editors Matthew Battles and Joshua Glenn; and Hilobrow.com contributor Matthew De Abaitua, author of the award-winning 2009 sci-fi novel The Red Men and a presenter for the British TV series SF:UK.
PRIZE: Hilobrow t-shirt; story published on Hilobrow.com and recorded as part of a podcast. A few runners-up will be published on the website, also.
CONTEST GUIDELINES & MORE CLICK HERE
I’m thrilled to announce that Edible Geography has teamed up with Sarah Rich to host a public event here in New York City next month; it will take place at Studio-X and will also be broadcast on Columbia University’s iTunes U channel.
Nicola’s own description of the day’s themes says it best:
- The free afternoon program will consist of four panel discussions: “Zoning Diet,” about the hidden corsetry of policy, access, and economics that gives shape to urban food distribution; “Culinary Cartography,” a look at the kinds of things we can learn about New York City when we map its food types and behaviors; “Edible Archaeology,” about the socio-economic forces, technical innovations, and events that have shaped New York food history, in the context of the present; and “Feast, Famine, and Other Scenarios,” an opportunity to collaboratively speculate on changes to the edible landscape of New York in both the near and distant future.
Each panel, she adds, will feature “a range of voices, including designers, policy-makers, flavor scientists, culinary historians, architects, anthropologists, health professionals, and food producers and retailers.” The line-up so far looks amazing, and a public announcement of all confirmed speakers should be up soon.
So if you’re interested in how food shapes cities, from urban culture to built geography, mark your calendar—and I hope to see some of you there.
At Tor.com, Fabio Fernandes on translating A Clockwork Orange into Brazilian Portuguese.
A countdown of the hundred best fantasy and science-fiction novels?
The syllabus for Matthew Kirschenbaum's graduate seminar on simulations.
Last but not least: Charlie Williams prefers typecasting to podcasting.
This week's mostly all about catching up on miscellaneous medical appointments (nothing major), rehearsing for Tino's Guggenheim piece and trying to sort out a good exercise routine - not doing so well on the last front, but it is a work in progress. The other major activity is a massive reading binge - at the humane society charity shop in Cayman, one of the volumes I picked up was Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. I liked Dunnett's mystery novels very much when I was a teenager, but her historical ones never held much appeal for me, despite my dear friend E.B.T.'s enthusiastic advocacy of them during our grad school years. But long is good when it comes to charity-shop light reading, and though I wouldn't say it's my perfect light reading (also it suffers from the unfortunate juxtaposition with Hilary Mantel's really brilliant Wolf Hall!), I certainly enjoyed the first installment enough to go and check out volumes two through seven from the Barnard Library yesterday.
(Where, by the way, I ran into a colleague of mine who is also doing Tino's piece - and as we discussed it, the young lady behind the library checkout counter exclaimed, "Are you doing Tino's piece? So am I!" It is a cast of thousands!)
There is something truly lovely and addictive about reading through a huge series in a relatively small amount of time. I read Lian Hearn's trilogy like that; Susan Howatch is perhaps my most recent long immersive series-reading experience, at least the one that comes most strongly to mind; but I was reminded as I plucked Dunnetts from the shelf of how I held out for a long time against the Aubrey-Maturin novels and then read the first one and basically couldn't really do anything else until I had read all of them - every day I went to Cross-Campus Library at Yale and checked out another armful or four or five of them and took them home and read them all, four or five days later I was done and wished I had eked them out for longer, but it was well worth it!
(On which note, I will conclude by adding that Vikram Seth is writing a sequel to A Suitable Boy, another long book I read in fits of transport...)
I say HTML5. App Stores are great but they will change dramatically over time to direct delivery from the developers. Developers themselves will use HTML5 so they can break the dependence on App Stores and the distribution fees associated with them.
When Apple originally released the iPhone all applications were supposed to be network based. There was a big hue and cry until Apple relented and allowed developers to develop directly for the phone.
With the evolution of technology it is time to go back to the original direction of the iPhone. The real benefit will be that they will not have to develop for any specific phone and can support any and all of them with one application.
That is the real goal of any developer.
One thing going on the background here is that the underlying technology for browser apps to compete with desktop apps is still pretty raw. HTML5 gives you local storage, but that’s a new technology. What do you use it for? Do you sync it with an Oracle backend? How do you resolve conflicts between the local data and the cloud data? Not that this kind of problem is unsolveable, but that the technology is immature.
On the advice of a friend here in New York, my wife and I went over to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve to watch the school’s underground steam infrastructure be transformed, temporarily, into a thunderous musical instrument. Somewhere between subterranean calliope and mutant wave organ, steam-powered explosions of sound threatened to deafen everyone as it turned 2010.
I’ve finally gotten around to uploading some footage I shot that night; you can watch (a very badly edited) clip, above.
[Image: Pratt's underground steam HQ, stitched together and cropped by iPhone].
According to the Municipal Art Society, Pratt’s steam-powered plant “is the oldest privately-owned, continuously operating, power plant of its kind in the country”—and, once a year, it gets turned into a gigantic musical instrument. One of the whistles used has even been repurposed from an old steamship, the S.S. Normandie.
The implication here, that you can attach pieces of musical instruments, and even old ship parts, to your city’s existing infrastructure and thus generate massive waves of sound is pretty astonishing; this might be a very site-specific thing, to be sure, and something only Pratt has permission to do to its own steam tunnels, but the mind reels at the possibility that this could be repeated throughout New York. For instance, on any point of the existing steam network as documented last month by Urban Omnibus:
- Every winter, a typically unseen machine becomes visible in the streets of Manhattan: Con Edison’s District Steam System. Seen from the street as steam leaking from manholes, or more safely vented through orange and white stacks, leaking steam hints at an underground energy distribution system that is the largest of its kind in the United States and offers a chance for the public to become more aware of and more involved in how the city works.
As Urban Omnibus adds, “the steam system is largely ignored by the public until things go wrong”—or, of course, until that system is turned into a city-scale musical instrument through a maze of well-placed reeds, valves, and resonators.
The city is a saxophone, your grandfather explains, pointing down through sidewalk steam-grates as haunting whistles begin to sound. We have always lived inside an instrument, he adds, even if not all of us have known.
Above, unused and undelivered water and supplies piled up outside the Haitian embassy in Mexico City, around 1 p.m., 26 January 2010. Volunteers and authorities at the embassy say they can no longer receive donations there; they are overwhelmed.
Today, another Mexican naval ship left port with tons of aid for "Puerto Príncipe." President Felipe Calderón had said the day after the quake struck that "no one knows better than us" the current plight of Haiti. Calderón was on hand Wednesday in Acapulco to see the ship, the 'Zapoteco,' depart port.
* More later.
After the financial meltdown, even as conservative a figure as the federal judge Richard Posner conceded that the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes deserved a closer look. Citing Keynes, Posner, like the majority of professional economists, supported the idea of a stimulus package. Meanwhile, a few Chicago-school economists, as revealed in a recent New Yorker piece and elsewhere, continue to argue that Keynesianism should be dumped into history’s dustbin.
Laypeople may not feel equipped to adjudicate the disagreements between the two camps. With these eager-to-learn but confused citizens in mind, Russ Roberts, an economist at George Mason University–who tilts against Keynes–and John Papola, a video producer for ostentatiously macho Spike TV who thought the media was doing a bad job of explaining economic theory during the recession, came together to create a video that would offer just such a primer.
Later, in the glove box, the police found a letter. It said:
“Letter To The Police,
All the stuff in the trunk and underneath the sleeping bag on the back seat is stolen (which is embarrassing because it’s just old adding machines and rotary phones and things people don’t use anymore, things I wasn’t going to be able to sell.) But the armadillo on the dashboard is mine. And it would mean a lot to me if you didn’t send it to the evidence room, where things usually end up for good, at least in my experience.
I paid six dollars for it at a monastery gift shop outside of Los Alamos last December after I spent an hour and a half watching a Benedictine brother carve it from a knob of evergreen pine. I was going through a shaky time then and seeing something old-fashioned like that really calmed me down. It gave me the closest thing to a religious feeling I’d had in years.
I’m sure he thought I wanted it because the armadillo is a kind of universal symbol of the West now. But I wanted it because I remembered a strange thing about armadillos, the kind I grew up with, the little black-eyed desert rats. It wasn’t that they jump straight into the air when they’re scared or that they can catch leprosy like humans, but the real evolutionary head-scratcher: that the females gestate four embryos and give birth to quadruplets, always the same sex.
There were four of us boys growing up, not quadruplets but pretty damned close, mom didn’t waste time. We beat each other senseless until we went our separate ways. But I still figured it might mean something to her, now that Jim and Bobby are dead and Pete’s doing whatever he’s doing down in Chile, to have a thing like that from me for Christmas, a nice monk-carved armadillo, a thing I put some thought into.
Hey, so much for good intentions, right? But maybe there’s somebody in the department who has a minute and could drop it into a padded envelope to her, C.O.D. – just Inez McF—-, Sligo, Texas, 79355, the post office knows her, they’ll get it to her. And a note, too, something like, “From Dan, your fat little baby.”
Thanks in advance for any consideration.
Everyone seems to be forgetting that the Onion got the scoop on some of the user-interface innovations of Apple’s much-heralded tablet computer a full year ago (granted, the company was still wed to the tired, horse-and-buggy “laptop” concept at the time):
On Friday afternoon a woman taking an adult education class at the museum accidentally fell into “The Actor,” causing the tear. Officials at the museum said that since the damage did not occur “in the focal point of the composition,” they expected that the repair would be “unobtrusive,” according to a statement released on Sunday.
From the Parkives: Fiction about falling into artwork!
And (via Levi, Thos., James): D&D banned in prison.
A drawing by Lucian Freud valued at more than $100,000 was accidentally put through a shredder by Sotheby’s in London in 2000. A man tripped over his shoelace on a staircase at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, and managed to shatter three Qing dynasty porcelain vases, as The Guardian reported.
There’s no doubt about it. A significant-objects meme has emerged in US culture, recently. I’m not just talking about Orhan Pamuk’s museum. Over at Fast Company, William Bostwick writes: “Maybe it’s the recession (it’s always the recession), but we seem to be going through a phase of self-analysis-through-stuff.” Here’s an ad for YLighting, from the current issue of the magazine Zink. Readers, let us know whenever you spot something like this!
Les noces de Colin et Chloé
Tribute to Boris Vian
When Tim and I first started batting around the idea of this panel, one thing was clear from the beginning: we didn’t want this to be boosterism at the expense of honest examination of the phenomenon. This is one of those times.
Above is an example of the New Yorker’s caption contest; for those not in the know, the contest was started about 5 years ago as a way to drive more traffic to the New Yorker site by having one of their esteemed artists draw a potentially hilarious cartoon, but leave off the one-line zinger below . The New Yorker then invites the audience to submit the caption, of which the best three were picked by the editors. These three then are listed on the site for the New Yorker audience to determine the winner. It is, in a neat little package, nearly exactly what we’ve been getting at in this discussion.
It’s also an abysmal failure, in my humble opinion.
What makes people go to solo art shows, show up for one-woman plays, read manifestos, and, perhaps most germanely, think a trip to a comedy club might be a good time? In a phrase, it’s singularity of vision. The New Yorker caption contest takes away everything that is (ok, occasionally) brilliant about New Yorker cartoons, namely, that the best ones are usually completely misanthropic and rather twisted. Only a magazine dedicated to the vast social experiment that is New York could wrangle the pathos that comes out in some of the cartoons in the magazine, and that is why they are funny. They are funny in a way that all slack-jawed gapes at the absurdity of life are funny; they are funny because they are bred from one too many brushes with humanity.
With all due respect to Ms. Klein and Msrs. Templeman and Harrington, the final captions options at the top of this post are, by contrast, tragically unfunny. The caption contest planes down the singular despotic comedic vision into a bland, Two And A Half Men, good-enough formula. I assume the people that enter want to win. So what’s most likely to win? Probably that which appeals to the massive base of the New Yorker readership, which, while I’ll grant is probably a little more urbane than most, doesn’t necessary possess the nihilistic wit that a really sharp cartoon commands.
So. We end up getting suggested captions about broken coffeemakers. Crowd-sourced, indeed.
There’s a great new project, currently near completion, that aims to illustrate each song of The Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” suite. How Fucking Romantic is the home of the project, where contributors’ creations are posted, and the list of illustrated songs is maintained.
The project is intensely Indirectly Collaborative: Originally, the songs were written by Stephin Merrit, and were then filled out by the musicians who played on the album. The songs were then used as inspiration by not just one, but a collection of artists to create a body of visual art that was originally never intended, but serves as a great compliment to the music. It’s interesting to think about how such cool illustrations could not have come to exist were it nor for an influence so removed from the visual art field. I think this speaks volumes to Merrit’s ability to conjure provocative imagery with his songs, and the artists’ ability to distill the mood of the music.
From the project site:
We are a loose collection of mostly London-based comic-artists, illustrators and writers, who have grown up listening to the Magnetic Fields and got together over a mutual love of the songs. One day, on Twitter, a couple of us decided that illustrating – or writing a comic – or a short story – inspired by all 69 songs was a worthwhile and exciting pursuit, so here we are!
Image by Huw “Lem” Davies
[Image: The black pyramid at Tama-Re, the Egypt of the West].
After watching a documentary about Ted Kaczynski—the Unabomber—a few months ago, I got to looking into the supermax prison where Kaczynski is now being held in the mountains of Colorado. And there are a lot of bizarre people up there, including Andrew Fastow, former Chief Financial Officer of Enron, and Charles Harrelson, the (now deceased) hitman father of actor Woody Harrelson.
One of the inmates who particularly stood out, however, was Dwight York. York is “an author, black supremacist leader, musician, and convicted child molester,” Wikipedia tells us, and he built a colorful, Ancient Egyptian-themed instant city on several hundred acres of forest land in the U.S. state of Georgia.
[Image: Tama-Re photographed from above, via Wikimapia].
The Urban Dictionary‘s description of Tama-Re is amazing; it reads like every race-based fear of the white U.S. middle class summed up in one surreal location.
- When York and his Nuwaubians moved there and began erecting pyramids and obelisks there was much curiosity about the group. However trouble started when the citizens became aware of the fact that York was an ex-Black Panther and a convicted felon and statutory rapist who was preaching the gospel that whites were mutants and were inferior to blacks. There is also a foam rubber alien on display in the compound that causes problems with public relations. Officials have had problems with the Nuwaubians failing to comply with zoning and building permits that coincide with what they have created. The Nuwaubians feel that this is a racist attack.
It’s hard to top a “foam rubber alien,” but the fear-factor nonetheless gets ratcheted up a notch:
- Many children from upper middle class cities have left college to live in poverty at the cult’s compound, Tama Re. This has caused a lot of turmoil in the lives of many families who can’t accept the fact that their sons and daughters have left them to follow an alien messiah. Throughout the grounds speakers everywhere emit the humming sound of Egyptian chants 24 hours a day. Inside one of the pyramids you can buy books and clothes as well as a Dr. York doll. The people who live on the land dwell in a trailer park full of double-wides. York claims his people are Moors who traveled by foot from Africa to what is currently Georgia before the continental drift. The only problem with this “indisputable” fact is that the moors were Muslims who existed way after the birth of Christ which was only approximately 2000 years ago.
Ergo, there was no way in plate tectonics that they could have walked all the way to Georgia.
In June 2005, after the compound’s governmental seizure, financial forfeiture, and ensuing sale for $1.1 million, outright demolition began. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, the local sheriff was on the scene, “speaking with relish as he watched crews tear through the series of obelisks, statues, arches and buildings. Many of the dozens of structures were weathered and in disrepair. He said very few of the Egyptian structures or objects were worth salvaging. ‘It feels good to tear down the SOB myself,’ he said. ‘By the middle of next week, there will be nothing but a couple of pyramids.’”
How, though, could these sorts of messianic compounds be addressed by and incorporated into architectural discourse? How do tacky black pyramids full of Luxor references complexify or contradict something like Venturi & Scott-Brown’s ideas of pop cultural ornament discussed just this past weekend at Yale?
Put another way, when will religious compounds meet their Tom Vanderbilt—that is, a journalist willing to travel around the world writing an architectural history of these fringe religious environments and stylistically eccentric cult enclaves?
These are sites built such that their every spatial detail is not justified by some historically rigorous academic architectural code, but because they function, psychologically, as a piece-by-piece tuning of the built environment. Add enough ornamental references together, these spaces say, and some weird new Messiah might yet someday return. It is functional ornament.
[Image: The ashes of the David Koresh compound in Waco, Texas].
Of course, I’m fascinated by the idea that Tehran, for instance, has been analyzed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who trained as a traffic engineer—for its ability to handle the crush of cars and pedestrians that will show up to greet the returning Messiah. And, spatially speaking, I would love to read more about the now-destroyed Texas farmhouse inside of which David Koresh once preached his Branch Davidian gospel. But what about the central headquarters of Aum Shinrikyo, where LSD-fueled physicists meditated in the dark, crowned with well-lit helmets of electrodes, or the mirrored room inside of which Heaven’s Gate cultists once strangled themselves out of fear of Hale-Bopp?
An intrepid assistant professor of the performing arts at Georgetown University is attempting a challenging project (to put it mildly): adapting the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization” for the stage.
Hooray, we’re gonna have a good ol’ fashioned spending freeze. That’ll help. My prediction: If the spending freeze goes forward, in one year this country’s gonna be doing pretty well. LOL.
in transposing her much-loved Cornwall on to Scotland, she later admitted she had blundered: 'My horticulture and natural history is in every instance wrong,’ she wrote. 'There are no rooks, elms or dahlias in the Hebrides; my sparrows are wrong; so are my carnations.’
[Image: Fresh Kills landscape masterplan by Field Operations, via Mammoth; "With 2,200 acres filled with 150 million tons of trash to contend with," Metropolis writes, "the challenge is making Fresh Kills public and safe, which means covering the garbage mounds with some four feet of fresh soil. The park would grow itself with cost-effective soil farms that aren’t eyesores." Read more at the Freshkills Park Blog].
Mammoth has posted a great list of the best architecture of the decade. It runs the gamut from groundwater replenishing infrastructure and Chinese high-speed rail to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the iPhone, by way of the Large Hadron Collider, Rome’s Pontine marshes, and a library in Medellín (among others).
The purpose of the list, they write, is “to share a handful of the reasons that we’re genuinely excited about the future of architecture, and to hopefully engender a bit of that excitement in a reader or two.” It’s an inspired (and refreshingly non-building-centric) list of innovations (like microfinance) that have affected the built environment—and yet another reason why Mammoth is one of the best architecture blogs being written anywhere in the world today.
As a list, it also fares very favorably against the mind-numbing self-congratulation of other critics’ decade-in-retrospect lists, in which the last ten years appeared to exist only to validate the publishing decisions of people who, long ago, forgot how to engage with anything more than a shaving mirror.
Again, here’s a link.
Act III, Eyes III: Barbados
Boys, 9 and 10 Years Old, Are Arrested as Burglars
Police Accuse Them of Stealing Jewelry Worth $500 From Brooklyn Dwelling
Two of the youngest burglary suspects wih whom Broolyn police ever had to deal were arrested yesterday and charged with entering the home of John Bliss, at 935 St. Mark’s Avenue.
The first prisoner charged with the robbery was named Edward J. (”Red”) Gardner, nine years old, of 955 St. Mark’s Avenue. He made a defense that baffled detectives who questioned him, until they accused him of having robbed a child’s toy bank. This he indignantly denied, and named Earl Jeffs, ten years old, of 953 St Mark’s Avenue, as the looter of the bank.
The loot collected by the boys included a gold watch and chain, two lavallieres and a gold cigarette case, valued in all at $500. It was recovered in the cellar of “Red’s” home. — New York Herald Tribune, July 10, 1921
Kenny Wisdom forgot his mantra, so he am a shut up.
Keiichi Matsuda, a student at the Bartlett School of Architecture, produced this fantastic short video in the final year of his M.Arch. It was, he writes, “part of a larger project about the social and architectural consequences of new media and augmented reality.”
- The latter half of the 20th century saw the built environment merged with media space, and architecture taking on new roles related to branding, image and consumerism. Augmented reality may recontextualise the functions of consumerism and architecture, and change in the way in which we operate within it.
The bewildering groundlessness of surfaces within surfaces is beautifully captured by this video, and its portrayal of drop-down menus and the future hand gestures needed to access them is also pretty great. Augmented-reality drop-down menus are the Gothic ornamentation of tomorrow.
Now how do we use all that home-jamming ad space for something other than Coke and Tesco? What other subscription-content feeds can be plugged into this vertiginous interface?
Take a look—and you can find more thoughts, and another video, on Matsuda’s own blog.
(Thanks to Nic Clear for the tip!)
You may be familiar with “Word a Day” email lists and smartphone apps. Susan Perkins, an associate curator at the American Museum of Natural History, is doing “Parasite of the Day.”
This cold ceramic bear witnessed some electrifying poker hands. Saw leather-faced wide-brimmed Doyle Brunson run a ten three offsuit. Watched matchstick-thin Amarillo Slim bluff his fictive straight to the river. Set his beady eyes on longhair Chris “Jesus” Ferguson as he parsed stats hand after hand like a machine till small-baller Daniel Negreanu fried his circuits by chattering his all-in with a lowly three seven to a win.
When playing No Limit Texas Hold ’em, the greatest game in the world, some of us take faith in a lucky weight, a talisman that squats on our hole cards, a little trinket with an invisible antenna pulling for luck. Amulets that we rub and stroke. A dinosaur. A sneaky fox. A strutting rooster. A river stone shaped like a frog. Even an inch tall they pretend to be fierce warriors guarding cards and shazaaming the table. Bluff Daddy, he had his inane white bear; thing didn’t even have a body. Just a head on top a’ feet. Not even feet, just six black toenails. Tongue-hanging-out bear. Blank white eyes ringed in black. Holes in the head. It’s a salt shaker is what. Bluff Daddy is ever lifting his teddy between bets and tossing salt over his shoulder.
We’re in a big hand, me and him. My gut says he’s got ace-high rags on his way to a longshot flush at the river. I’ve been praying for this hand all night. Playing loosey-goosey, mixing up my play then closing the gate like a clam. I’m impossible to read. The way to lure suckers into a pot when you’re holding the nuts, you gotta spend time projecting false tells. Jiggle a leg, chatter too much or go stone mute, work it all night till the other players think they’ve got you pegged. The tell and reverse-tell is a maddening thing. When the tell is flipped, a monster pot can be stolen.
Just before the dealer turns the river card, that white bear puts the whammy on me. Tongue hanging out, face smeared in bear lipstick. No. Not lipstick. It’s bleedin’ out the mouth. I swear. Then Bluff Daddy hits his flush. His bad luck. He goes all in, he has to. You can’t beg off the high card flush. My stack is bigger than his; he can’t match my all-in. So I say to him, want to match it? I’ll take that bear. He shoves it right in and instantly blanches white as his bear. That donkey betrayed his own lucky charm. I mean, Bluff Daddy even looked like that bear. Like that bear was his lucky spawn.
I show him my full house. Pass the salt, I say. I won that bear, fair and square. After that hand? Me an’ my new bear, we dominate the table all night.
Above, a non-commercial announcement from the Mexico City metro workers union, stuck where some company's advertisement should be. In English it says:
National Union of the Collective Transport System, January 2010.
In celebration of the Bicentennial of our Independence and the Centennial of the struggle that gave meaning to the Mexican Revolution, the Metro Workers have prepared ourselves to permanently maintain the trains in which you travel.
-- National Executive Committee.
The message gave me pause. What is the union saying here, stripping away the laborese?
Here's the meaning I took, purely as interpretation: The organized workers of the metro -- one of the busiest in the world -- are reassuring its users that if some kind of phantom-like social upheaval hits Mexico this year, or next, or the year after -- and who's to say that's unlikely or not, either way? -- the workers will keep the trains running. No matter what. Heavy.
The one-way fare, by the way, is now 3 pesos, up from 2.
* Related at TFT, "New Subway Line Redraws Mexico City's Map."
I have recently become a fan of the Grilled Cheese Grill. Its sandwiches are delicious, and the mural on the ceiling of its seating area — a schoolbus — is fantastic. See:
Now for a tiny nap, and then to start Day 2.0, the one where I write fiction and do not get sucked into the Internet.
I was excited finally to pick up a copy of Icon‘s February issue today; it is, in its entirety, an exploration of how fiction can be used to explore architectural ideas and the future of the built environment.
Contributors range from China Miéville, Bruce Sterling, and Cory Doctorow to Ned Beauman, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Oron Catts, and Will Self, with microfiction contributions from Tim Maly of Quiet Babylon fame and Simon Sellars of Ballardian. I was also very happy to see that “Landscapes of Quarantine” participant Scott Geiger appears with a short review, and there is much else besides.
China Miéville’s story, “The Rope is the World,” takes place amidst “the space elevators, the skyhooks, the geostationary tethered-dock haulage columns” of a planet bound to its lower atmosphere by giant pieces of astral infrastructure. However, these elevators, in Miéville’s telling, are doomed to become fantastic aerial ruins, turning the Earth into “an irregularly spoked wheel” studded with abandoned elevator shafts, each “longer than Russia.” Derelict chain-cities hang flaccid in the skies. What might Caspar David Friedrich have painted in such a world?
Bruce Sterling, meanwhile, presents us with a world in which nothing seems to exist but broadband access—and that world is far from exhilarating. The story’s accompanying photograph shows us a Windows-powered laptop sitting alone on a plaster-flecked apartment floor, plugged into the wall of a room that otherwise has nothing in it; this solipsistic interior, void of anything like human presence or culture, reminded me of an old Peter Lamborn Wilson interview in which Wilson launches into an amazing rant against the rise of home internet use (even if I don’t agree with his conclusions):
- Yes. You’re slumped in front of a screen, in the same physical situation as a TV watcher, you’ve just added a typewriter. And you’re “interactive.” What does that mean? It does not mean community. It’s catatonic schizophrenia. So blah blah blah; communicate communicate; data data data. It doesn’t mean anything more than catatonics babbling and drooling in a mental institution. Why can’t we stop?
In Sterling’s fictional world, these empty interiors freed of all personal possessions, with not even a place to sit, pulsate with instant access to Gmail; you can check your Twitter feed even if you can’t cook a decent meal.
But when the story’s protagonist obtains a mail-order 3D printer (“This sleek and sturdy overnight parcel contains everything one might need for do-it-yourself, open-source digital home fabrication,” Sterling writes), he or she gains an ability to produce objects—which then seems to be greeted with hipster disillusionment, rather than with ecstasy.
Indeed, the story ends on a low note; its final line: “I have to print my bed, so that I can lie in it.”
I have to admit to having already read that final sentence courtesy of Matt Jones‘s Twitter feed a few weeks ago, and I had imagined, between then and now, a totally different story. I had pictured Sterling’s story, called “The Hypersurface of the Decade,” set in a world where personalized 3D printers create everything from our furniture to our food; today we might print our boarding passes at home before getting on an airplane, but tomorrow we will print our hamburgers, TVs, and even bedspreads.
Maybe we’ll print dogs and subway passes and prescription medications. Maybe we will even print our children.
[Image: MIT's Fluid Interfaces Group's Cornucopia 3D food-printer].
Maybe it’s just a question of having the right new infrastructure of pipes—no, not those pipes. Maybe we need to forget ink cartridges; we’ll just subscribe to personal flows of speciality ingredients, chemical mixtures that come to us through a radically retooled infrastructure of pipes embedded in the walls of our cities. As unsurprising to someone in 50 years as piped water is to residents of New York today, anyone will simply print a pill of Prozac when they really need it or even print themselves a birthday cake.
Forget killer apps; all you need is the right printhead. Plug it into a nozzle on the wall and voilà.
In any case, I had pictured a story set in some strange Dr. Seuss world of instantly-printed objects. Forget furniture and clothing and utensils. Forget the Apple Tablet; instead you’d carry portable printheads, emitting on-demand, dissolvable realities of the present moment. Trapped in a room, you’d simply print a hammer and attack the wall. Of course, in many ways that is exactly what Sterling has described in his story, but it takes till the last three or four paragraphs to get a glimpse of this malleable world.
But, speaking only for myself, I’d love to spend more time inside this strange fever-dream in which instantly realizable objects appear left and right. I would hold something not unlike a gateway in my hand—some fabulous new printhead—spraying forms into the world of human beings.
Pick up a copy of Icon‘s Fiction Issue before it disappears.
Sometimes having scrollbars on a web page is a good affordance. Scroll bars on a web log that’s a series of text areas makes a lot of sense — scrolling reflects both time and text. The app and the widget go together.
But for a lot of web apps scroll bars aren’t a great affordance, and they make the site harder to use rather than easier. These current gen apps let the app saturate the entire browser window but don’t overflow it:
Web page design usually starts by assuming a scroll bar. But that overlooks the problem of how users discover what’s accessible via the scroll bar.
On Myspace the most important navigation technique is to scroll the page until you stumble on what you’re looking for. Just keep going and eventually you’ll see that bit of text or widget somewhere in the thicket of bling. Hunt in the visible page, and if you don’t see what you want expose some more of the page.
A nav bar or some other explicit navigational aide would be a lot easier and more effective. To find the comments, have a link to them *above the fold* in the first screenful. Not just comments — anything that a user might look for needs a discoverable path above the fold.
And once you’re putting all those links above the fold, what exactly is the benefit of a scrolling page? Why not move that functionality — the comment widget, the player widget — to units that aren’t loaded until the user asks for them? The original page will be lighter and faster, and users won’t have the cognitive burden of divining what the scroll bar will allow them to access.
One kind of thing that a scroll bar is the right metaphor for: more of the same. When you have a table of names, and it starts “Alice”, “Bob”, “Carol”, and the next row is hidden offscreen, then a scroll bar is a natural way to navigate. You know what’s coming when you scroll down.
But a lot of the time a scroll bar is olden days thinking, just a habit from the days when web sites were static text by default. It’s paper-oriented thinking.
GOOD Magazine, in their Slow issue, highlight a composition by avant-garde artist and composer John Cage, most well known for his four minute and thirty-three second piece comprised of no notes.
Another piece, Organ²/ASLSP, has an instruction that it should be played as slowly as possible. Some Cage devotees in Halberstadt, Germany have taken that direction to heart and have begun a very slow performance of it, begun in 2000, to be completed in 2639.
This is an interesting example of Indirect Collaboration, where interpretation is paramount to other types of contributions, maybe even including even the original input. Of course the notes being played are important, but those are mostly performed, or at least sustained, by mechanical means.
This calls into question the role of the gatekeeper. This instance could be considered to have two gatekeepers, or maybe none. Cage wrote the composition, but then stepped away. The Germans stepped in, free to meddle, but only in one direction. Is this creative? Collaborative? Certainly it’s indirect.