ASPEN — Stanford’s Balaji Prabhakar is one of those computer scientists who has become fascinated by the networks of the physical world. After working for years on cloud computing, Prabhakar has turned his attention not to social networks, but to “societal networks,” transportation in particular.
His big idea is to create “frequent commuter programs” in which people who travel on public transit would be rewarded for patronizing the system varying amounts depending on when and how far they travel. Prabhakar thinks the system could help create greater public transit usage and simultaneously decrease congestion. And he’s deploying behavioral economics to transform the small monetary rewards a city could offer into something more. They tried a pilot program with Infosys in Bangalore and are rolling out a larger program with Singapore soon.
Here’s a lightly edited and mildly condensed version of what he told me this afternoon:
The frequent commuter program has two goals. One is to increase people’s loyalty to the public transport system. We want people to be disloyal to their cars, to cheat on their cars. And the second major goal is to decongest the peak time trains and buses. The problem is that it is unpleasant to take a trip during the peak time. If we could achieve both goals with the frequent commuter project, it would be great.
The nice thing about this project is that it is going to do exactly what the airline miles do. You take a 10 kilometer trip, you get 10 credits. And Singapore can measure the kilometers. But if you make that same trip in the off-peak time, you’ll get 30 credits. This creates new bonding between you and the system. People don’t think of the indignity of taking a three-stop trip on their preferred airline versus a direct cheaper flight sometimes. In fact, they see the angle as, “I’m earning more miles.”
What are these credits worth? We have some dollars to give away, but since we don’t have a whole lot of dollars. Instead, what we’re going to do is create this microraffle method of paying out. It leverages this idea in economics that in games with low stakes players are more risk taking.
James Bridle, a publisher based in London, is a member of a rising class of digital futurists that fuse multiple professional experiences—for him, a university degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence with an organic interest in literature—to form a dynamic public-facing practice. “Essentially, when any new technology comes along, I try to force literature into it in some way,” he wrote during our recent email exchange.
The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs (2010)
Bridle runs the conference gamut from book fairs and South by Southwest to the UNESCO World Forum on Cultural Industries in Lombardia, Italy, where he lectured just weeks ago. His presentations are documented on another website devoted to technology and so-called book futurism, http://booktwo.org/, where he posts a series of essays and updates on his myriad projects. The Frankfurt School is an obvious inspirational go-to, given the titles of his posts and projects: Walter Benjamin’s Aura: Open Bookmarks and the form of the eBook (2010), The Author of Everything (2011), and Robot Flâneur (2011). Bridle’s better-known efforts include The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs (2010) a twelve-volume set that chronicles, in print, every change made to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War; Bookkake (2008) is a digital and print-on-demand publishing system for erotic literature, while bkkeepr (2008) and Open Bookmarks (2010) help users track and share their reading experiences through Twitter and social bookmarking.
The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs segues elegantly from the digital to the object worlds; the books qualify the data, physically. I see a different, yet equally compelling set of relational possibilities in the project I chose to focus on for our interview—one that I now know Bridle considers a failure (his words; not mine!): Artists’ eBooks is, as its title suggests, a digital imprint designed to provide an experimental publishing platform for writers and artists. In the conversation that follows, we discussed the shifting nature of the reading experience from print to screen, and its implications for the book-as-medium.
SH: In thinking about the mimetic attempts of Apple’s iPad/iBooks app here, in particular, I’m curious about the various ways in which e-reader hardware replicates the physical book in size, shape, and even surface—the physical dimensions of the book are represented digitally by a beveled edge; its animated pages turn with the flick of the user’s thumb. As someone who considers electronic publishing from a futurist’s perspective, how do you see the physicality of the virtual reading experience changing?
JB: I used to think that the skeuomorphism of most electronic book readers was a deliberate, or at least emergent and therefore temporary, phase. I thought people were designing ebook readers like natural mimics: they just had to look enough alike the physical book to kill it, and then they could look like anything.
And yet, so much of that design is still with us. The almost-ubiquitous page flip animation is an abomination. Apple’s iBooks is a particular offender: it inserts the image of a stack of pages to the right of the page that implies you’re always on the recto and you’ve always got 200 pages to go, regardless of what you’re reading. This is bad design, not only because it cleaves to irrelevant artifacts of the physical book while ignoring the affordances of the physical; it actively impedes them. Electronic reading will be improved the sooner we escape the convention of the “page”, but current formats reinforce this.
SH: Agreed on the iPad page flip animation-abomination. I catch myself feeling actively embarrassed by it while reading on the train, accidentally skipping multiple pages and then thumbing furiously to find my spot. How can we escape “the convention of the ‘page,’ ” though? Where do we go next? Do you feel like certain online reading environments or apps—Flipboard comes to mind here—are helping de-emphasize the page-based reading experience?
JB: It’s a matter of letting go of physical concerns about the book. Books are written in sentences, paragraphs, chapters and sections; they’ve never been written in pages. The web shows that text works as a continuous flow at any length or format: I prefer reading Instapaper’s accessible, addressable scroll than any fake codex.
For some time I’ve argued that the physicality of the reading experience is a red herring: what matters is its temporality. This has historically been embodied in the book itself, because it has nowhere else to go, but increasingly, with the free flow of electronic texts through the network, with our ever-diverting attention, and the development of new tools for social reading, for annotation and sharing, our experience of the book is separating from the physical object, and with it our focus on the material will pass away.
SH: Hardware developers out there will certainly disagree, as do I! How do you account for the fact that certain types of content is being more readily consumed on the iPad, or that some devices—the Kindle or the Nook, for instance—are being credited with reviving certain markets in the magazine industry? How can we divorce ourselves from the physicality of the reading experience?
JB: I’m prepared to be proved totally wrong on this—but I don’t think I will. I think this is a temporary blip, a gadget-induced mania that will disappear when the situation normalizes. For naturally heterogeneous formats like the magazine, the web is a far more native land. So, yes, they will work great on the iPad or other connected device, better than paper, but the line between them and the web will slowly disappear. The magazine format—like the traditional book— is useful to publishers as a package they can sell; less so to the reader.
SH: Speaking of packages: Your “Artist’s e-books” project is of particular interest to me, as I’m curious to see artists and publishers negotiate with the form in the digital realm. How are you defining the artist’s book within this particular project?
JB: Artists’ eBooks started by defining itself around what was possible using a particular format: epub. Epub is fast becoming the standard format for ebooks outside the Amazon ecosystem, although I admit to being less convinced about its longevity and full adoption than I might have been a year or two ago.
It’s never good to start any project with a format rather than an idea, but I wanted to see what artists and experimental writers would do with this format that was being widely used for corporate, traditional purposes. I also felt—have always felt—that ebooks should be democratising, but the technology to produce them was being unreasonably obscured. It’s a lot easier, financially, for someone to produce and distribute an ebook than a physical book, and I wanted to show that this technology was available to anyone.
SH: The role of the image in electronic book publishing is a complicated one, as each e-reader presents a particular set of challenges in terms of color, resolution, and scale. Given the primary role of the image in many artist-produced publications, how are you responding to these challenges within your own project?
JB: I don’t have much to say on this, sorry.
SH: Can you tell me a bit about the process behind the Artist’s e-book project? How did you go about choosing the artists you’ve worked with thus far? Is the process an agile one, whereby author, editor, and developer work together from the ground up, or do you simply convert printed books to digital form?
JB: It’s different for each book. The original selection came out of discussions with Tony White, a writer who I’ve admired greatly for some time. His cut-up works had been published in print as part of exhibition catalogues, but as an ebook they became networked and could be reconnected to the original sources. Niven Govinden’s work is infused with music, so we took the opportunity to add a soundtrack, while Kenji Siratori’s work is simply unpublishable in any real traditional, commercial form: the position of artist and the format of the ebook allow the work to go out regardless.
SH: Historically speaking, the artist’s book was a rarefied object, qualified as such by a particular set of physical parameters; that changed over time, of course, but the artist’s book still exists as such despite more democratized (and even, dematerialized) means of production and distribution that govern contemporary publishing practices. Do you think the artist’s e-book presents a particular or even greater opportunity to push the physical parameters of digital publishing? If so, how?
JB: I think that if there are going to be interesting developments in literary style they are likely to come about in responses to new technologies; if not, they would have come about before. But I am beginning to think that the notion of an Artists’ eBook artificially constrains this possibility. We’re not going to find new opportunities by aping the old forms in a new media: the most interesting literary experiments I’ve seen are taking place fully entwined with the new media, embedded in blogs, wikis and services like Twitter, products of those cultures rather than interventions in them.
SH: How does the notion of an Artists’ e-book “artificially constrain” given possibilities in the form?
JB: The traditional book is a closed container. It has many possibilities, but they are enclosed in the single book. The electronic book is no longer closed, it has been unbound. So forcing it back into the container of the epub or other format seems limiting. You can link out, include images and some other media, but you can’t embed networked content, like videos hosted elsewhere, or computational or dynamic content, for example. So while artists’ ebooks are a totally viable thing, they seem to be a very small subset of what an artist or experimental writer could be doing with electronic technology, and of less interest than either a traditional artists’ book, or a more networked approach. For me, the magic is in the network; the ebook shrinks from this. Which is fine for traditional literary formats, but is definitely an artificial constraint on the artist.
Sarah Hromack writes about the intersection of art and digital culture; she also manages the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website. Twitter: @forwardretreat
There have been other game designs since that have stimulated those emotionally-charged pleasure centers-–Rock Band comes to mind-–but Rez remains unique in its ambition to create synesthesia as a playable experience. It was the first mainstream art game (and it wasn’t that mainstream, as it turned out.) The creators of the game moved on to other things, the studio was merged with other corporate units, and that was that…the game was by no means a hit when it was released. It was recognized by a small circle of aficionados as something quirky, beautiful, and different. In the years since, Rez has captured more mindshare; partly because more people accept the idea of art games, partly because maybe it just took that long for people to discover it and play it. By 2008 there was enough of a movement to convince Microsoft to release Rez HD as a downloadable game for the Xbox 360. It got rave reviews from game critics, but, seriously, it was the exact same game, redone graphically to look pretty in HD. It was the same game, so you didn’t get to relive that moment of intense anticipation and discovery of playing it for the first time.
Pinckard says Children of Eden, released this month for Kinect, was the game she “waited a decade” to play:
I played it for the first time at a friend’s house, after a day of barbecue in the sun, accompanied by several excellent glasses of wine. He insisted I put on the headphones. I lifted my right hand to begin. And then I was suddenly falling upward through a liquid field of stars. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It was exhilarating, because for the first time in a very long time I felt again that excitement of experiencing something utterly new and strange and beautiful. I started dancing subtly to the beat as I played without even really realizing it.
“Now a novel approach to photographic imaging is making its way into cameras and smartphones. Computational photography, a subdiscipline of computer graphics, conjures up images rather than simply capturing them. More computer animation than pinhole camera, in other words, though using real light refracted through a lens rather than the virtual sort. The basic premise is to use multiple exposures, and even multiple lenses, to capture information from which photographs may be derived. These data contain a raft of potential pictures which software then converts into what, at first blush, looks like a conventional photo.”
ASPEN — In an age where Washington doesn’t seem capable of dealing with any major structural problem, cities have become the most exciting laboratories for policy. Endowed with a unique electorate, things can happen at the local level that aren’t possible at the national or even state level. And because there are a lot more cities than there are countries, many more minds in many more environments are trying to solve the basic problems humans face all living together: Where do we get energy? What do we do with waste? How do we keep the air clean? How will people get around?
Today at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit unveiled a new tool for city planners. The U.S. and Canada Green Cities Index took 27 cities and scored them on CO2, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air and environmental governance. A report accompanying the rankings looked at individual policies and factors that helped shape the cities’ scores.
On the top line, the results aren’t shocking. San Francisco led the list, followed by Vancouver, New York City, Seattle and Denver. The cities with the lowest rankings were mostly in the old rust belt. The bottom five were Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Cleveland, St. Louis and (in dead last) Detroit. The full list follows the gallery, which shows the cities in alphabetical order. The graphics illustrate the components of the city’s overall performance.
I think the granular data available from the study is more interesting than the topline results. Take Atlanta’s water situation. The city’s score is middling, but the details are fascinating. Atlanta does exceptionally well restricting water consumption per capita, especially for a town with its weather profile. That’s a good thing because Atlanta has been wracked with droughts over the past few years, a problem that may get more severe as the climate gets weirder and the population continues to grow. But get this: Atlanta loses nearly one-third of its water due to leakage! That’s far above the city index average of 13 percent and unthinkable, given the city’s water problems. Atlanta’s losing so much water because of an aging infrastructure that hasn’t been fixed.
All these problems we talk about at the abstract level on the national stage — air quality, water, infrastructure, energy — are embodied in our cities. If you’re Atlanta’s mayor, you ignore water infrastructure at your peril. On the positive side, other cities across the world are also facing crumbling infrastructure and coming up with creative ways to finance their renewal. The new report has dozens of examples of problem solving at the city level.
Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit have actually put out several similar reports for other parts of the world: Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Sadly, data problems prevent the lists from being mashed up into global rankings. One thing we do know, though, is that density is the lever that makes sustainability easier, and U.S. cities aren’t dense. So, it’s likely that American cities would have a hard time beating comparably sized cities in Europe, say.
And finally, this isn’t the first green cities ranking, nor is it the only one. But it strikes me as significant that one of the largest companies in the world is now putting out this kind of list. the muscle lining up behind a future that uses less resources, produces less waste, guarantees cleaner environments and reduces the derangement of the atmosphere can be shocking.
As the futurist and seer Bruce Sterling said back in 2007: “‘Corporate Green.’ Get used to this. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and supper. You’re going to get Corporate Green whether you like it or not.’” Luckily, I suppose, I like it.
The end of the school year was a sweet one. For the last meeting of my Beyond Genre workshop (full title: "Beyond Genre: Fabulism, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction"), we convened in the town cemetery at 7:00 pm. Then I set them loose to collect names of the dead and bring them back to life on the page.
So we prowled around the tilting tombstones with notebooks in hand. But finding names was so entertaining it was hard for anyone to stop to actually start writing character sketches. Chauncey Wack! Rufus Jump! And his son Giles Jump. Halloween K. Peabody! Darius Darling. Narcissa Pay!
Living in such a tiny town, walking my dogs down the same streets every day, I always liked veering off to take the cemetery route. There was always something to read. Other lives to imagine. One of the best parts of teaching is that you can share these things with a little audience. You love a story, and then you get to teach it. You find a lovely spot, and then you wait all semester for an evening that's temperate enough to bring the students to it. And they bring chocolate-covered Oreos. What a job.
Names in hand, before we headed back to the seminar room.
My friend Ginger Brooks Takahashi came during commencement week to give a talk about her art. She said that it's important for young artists to know that there isn't just one Art World, there are many art worlds and ways to be an artist. Smart and true.
In college Ginger and I played in a band called Endor, along with Gillian and Lena. We had a handful of songs and did a cover of "The Metro" by Berlin. All that survives is a very scratchy tape recording of a co-op basement show and some photos wherein I'm wearing a suit made of duct tape. But it was one of the most rewarding things I did in college. Ginger has a punk soul and a great pop sensibility, an excellent combination. She is also brave and enthusiastic. Which in a way are sort of the same thing.
Last radio show at WOBC.
On Commencement Day itself I didn't walk in the ceremony (I don't own the requisite regalia--Iowa's graduation is an informal affair--and didn't rent it this year). I headed down to Tappan Square anyway to scope out the crowds and bid farewell to some of my students. I was seeking, I think, a sense of closure. I had hoped that the ritual would give me a sense of finality. But when I got there, though the president was just launching into the C names, the ground was already strewn with trampled programs and people wandered around, talking and mingling. It was as apt a closure as any—a handful of people going through the formal motions in the background, while real life chatted and shuffled around and made kind a benign mess.
Nothing ever really feels over.
Thanks, Oberlin. What good stories you've given me.
HiLobrow is proud to present the fifth installment of Karinne Keithley Syers’s novella and song cycle Linda, a hollow-earth retirement adventure with illustrations by Rascal Jace Smith. New installments appear every Thursday.
The story so far: Our heroine Linda, a retired math teacher from Tennessee who somehow got stuck in this story, has been wandering the globe (not the planet, but a special separate kind of game world) with her companion dog-Linda. In the last installment, Linda received an invasive transmission of images of the hollow earth, and lay helpless while a lady from what seemed like another dimension planted a metal object in her mouth. Linda was upset, so we made her a protection dance, and left the instructions on how to do it.
Linda wakes on the floor of the globe. Dog-Linda is lying pressed against her, stretched long and narrow, almost the shape of a human. Linda looks at the trees at the light refracted through the faint mist. Dog-Linda lifts her head up and looks at Linda’s face, and when Linda shifts, dog-Linda moves instantly to her feet. Linda takes off her shoes, generic black 5-hole lace-up shoes with spent gel inserts, and wonders if they make her look like she works in a prison, and wonders how she would have done as a guard in a women’s prison and if one needs any more compassion to work in a jail than in a high school math classroom. She takes off her brown argyle socks, and lays them in the shoes. Sitting, she picks up her left foot and then her right, using her hands to slowly circle her toes, pressing each foot open and closed, rubbing her ankles. Dog-Linda licks each foot when she is done with it. She replaces her socks and shoes and they go walking.
Linda and dog-Linda walk all day, following paths made by unseen animals before them. All morning they pass Red Pin Oaks, Sweetgum and Green Ash trees, Ginkgos, Hickory and Elm. The canopy is full and apple green in the light. There is a chill especially in the dampness that clouds around fallen trunks, whose roots splay skyward, reminding Linda of arteries and capillaries. Underfoot the globe is soft. When the path becomes more defined, almost a footpath, the light changes slowly, extracting green warmth and leaving a grayish purple brightness.
They pass into a coppice of Tilia trees, with their heart shaped leaves and pea-fruit extending in small stiff ribbons. They listen to their own feet against the ground. As they continue the trees begin to form regular patterns, concentric arcs with easy avenues between them. Linda and dog-Linda walk side by side now, uneasy in the strange regularity, passing rings of trees until the rings become small, and give at last onto a wide interior clearing with a single tree at the center, a silver Linden from another story, straight-stemmed and round-topped and so light-barked it seems almost to be floating.
From the opening in the canopy a sourceless luminosity flows in, and as Linda and dog-Linda stand watching the tree, its shadow takes a slow course across the ground, as if a sun were pacing around in a circle. But there is no sun; there never has been one in the globe, which tends to fill with a light of perfect consistency, more like a painting than a place. The shadow, though, is definitely moving, and as they wait, watching, they see it turn from an oval cast of the tree’s round top to the long line of its very straight trunk. This line extends and extends, locating Linda and reaching methodically footwise, and as the shadow line falls across her shoes, she notices a bright spot reflected in their shine. Looking up, past the tree, she sees a brilliance approaching, and hears perhaps wheels in the leaves. Dog-Linda is not alarmed, only sits with ears pressed just the slightest bit down, looking straight forward, and this calms Linda. The light, like an enormous flashlight or maybe a searchlight, comes nearer and nearer, until if forces Linda and the dog to shut their eyes against its brightness.
When the brightness suddenly stops, they look out, and in front of the tree discover a refrigerator powered by a small, attached motor. Inside the refrigerator they find cold meat and bread and mustard, and honey and grapes and jam, and soft white cheese and a bottle of some kind of wine and there are also squashes and berries and smoked fish and a jar of salt, a bag of crackers, olives and figs, loose green tea and a packet of coarse salt. There is a glass bottle of milk with a foil cap and some cooked pasta in a brown ceramic bowl and a small flour cake and next to the cake is a folded-up note which Linda reads, and which asks her not to forget the watercress. Linda reaches for the bottle, peels the cap off, and drinks. The cold milk rams a sharp prodding sensation directly between her second and third molars where the object is lodged, and a sharp pain reaches down from the center of her tooth almost to her ear almost as if it is groping for something in her body.
Have you seen this picture of Linda lying on the ground, a dry field with low amber grass? Her clothes are all off and she has them rolled up as a pillow under her head and though she faces us she doesn’t look right at us, but off to our right. Her body is marble-white almost, and in the picture she is quite young, very soft and beautiful. Her hair is swept into a round shape on top of her head and her lips are just a little glossy. Her arm rests modestly on the ground in front of her and her legs are just a little crossed and so although her clothes are all off she is still covered to our view. In the distance behind her is a castle. It looks medieval and maybe Scottish, with its round, undecorated buildings and some of the walls in ruins. Her belly hangs just slightly down on the grass, not a paunch but more like an undisturbed, unpanicked roundness that shows the picture to predate our own time of shame. Her eyes look straight ahead in that way you look when you’re thinking hard on something, focusing a few feet in front of you as if the problem is hovering right there in the air. Her mouth is closed; a question is open.
From our angle, the castle appears to be quite empty but if you were to walk around to the back of it you’d find a small crowd of women in an open kitchen, chopping onions and vegetables while another kills and prepares a chicken in a courtyard just off to the right. Your eye would be drawn by the strong triangular composition, from the raised arm of the woman beating a carpet on the rear upper balcony of the castle building, to the ax-blade above the chicken, and finally to the hand of the woman chopping onions which is stopped in mid air, the bones curving gently as if she’s feeling for the aura of the onion.
This woman now turns to a child of about 8 and appears to be directing her to fetch something. If you follow the child out the gates of the castle, in the other direction from where Linda is lying, you’ll see her cross over a few fields until she finds one that is cut by a small furrowed stream. The stream, which divides the castle land from the land of the neighbor, an absentee lord who passes his time in the music and lady-filled salons of foreign cities, is thick with watercress, and the child gathers this watercress into her pockets as apparently instructed. When she returns she takes care to walk on the high crest of the mud in the plough lines of the field, imprinting the shape of her shoe again and again, and counting two hundred and seven steps before she reaches the stile and climbs into the next field. This field is unploughed but half-full of cows, and as she makes her way carefully between the cow patties, stopping here and there to pull chamomile, she talks to the cows as if they were her business partners in a great venture to market chamomile tea and watercress soup to the aborigines of a newly discovered planet just behind the moon. It will help them very much in space, you see.
If you were to leave the girl and return to the front of the castle you would pass by rows of grape vines strung across a pitch of wooden stakes where the first leaves of the year are just appearing. You would pass a small tub decorated with the insignia of some bygone layard, now filled with a green sludge covering rotten stalks of herbs, and next to that spot a tin can filled with cigarette ends. When you rounded the corner and finally saw Linda she would have put her clothes on again, and would be sitting on a blanket speaking to a passing farmer about the terrible news from Japan. He would take out his notebook and carefully write down something she told him to tell his wife. (He is forgetful of phrases.) Then replacing the twig in his mouth he would walk on. You would see Linda stare after him until well after he has passed from view, and see her then lie down on the blanket in the grass covering her eyes against the bright sun, which grows warmer. Someone approaches from the castle, you cannot tell if it is a man or a woman, and kneels down by Linda, who reaches up and pulls this person to her, and you turn aside then, out of discretion, and pass back through the vine plantings, asking a cigarette of the young man who has returned to the area and now sits on an overturned bucket smoking and looking at the vines. His hand is long and graceful and you watch the bones of his fingers articulate as he passes the cigarette to his mouth and back down to his side. When he is done you ask him if he would mind taking a photograph of you in front of the castle.
Later that night you dream that you are marrying in the midst of a general chaos involving unwashed dishes and late showers, taking place in a version of the kitchen from your childhood home. Through the doorway, which in the dream is situated in the back of the house instead of the front, a tall man enters in a yellow-cream-tan suit (the flooding backlight obscures the color), takes hat in hand and congratulates you on your marriage, and gives you a long embrace that while it lasts seems to measure the years and years of entanglements and unknottings and random fortuities of your life, and your mother and all your family are there, fussing about the dishes that haven’t been done and you feel supremely happy if a little rushed and awestruck by the plain fact of unanticipatable variety.
Linda, however, is having bad dreams and giving off a steady stream of curses in the night fuck you fuck you fucker shit. Dog-Linda pulls closer to her and Linda rolls over still asleep and curls around the dog and becomes quiet and the globe turns to lapis and the sky freezes and nothing moves except the air coming into and out of the lungs of Linda and dog-Linda, feathering into vapor plumes that push out into the lapis blue stillness and gently move aside to permit new air in. Nothing moves in this air but a small shiny saw peeking out from the hollow inside of the Linden tree in the clearing, cutting as quietly as possible a removable panel into the furrowed bark. When the panel is cut, a thin wire extrudes from it, reaching up to brush the lowest leaves, and causing them to fall, the silvery undersides that give the tree its name dropping onto Linda and dog-Linda like a blanket. Linda’s curses stop. No other accumulation.
"Untitled (Landscape with Reclining Nude)"
When Linda wakes for the second time on the floor of the globe, she discovers across her the shadow of the refrigerator. She sits up and shakes off the leaves that are covering her. She takes some meat out of the fridge and calls dog-Linda, who comes running out of the concentric rows of trees.
Just as before, they walk all day, following directions left by other creatures, trace suggestions of ways to move through the globe. The trees this morning are of the higher altitudes: Quaking Aspens and very tall Firs, but the air is not thin or crisp; it’s soft and the sky all around them is a light amethyst free of weather. The bark of the Aspen, silver-grey, shimmers, making the horizon an obscure, hovering and glittering line that reminds Linda of a sequin-front dress her friend Janet wore to the Knoxville High prom in 1965, when Linda wore peach chiffon with V’s in the back and the front, the back one cut herself in an effort to solve an insufficient rib allowance that got in the way of dancing. They walk, moving lulled and unquestioningly toward the shimmering which calls to them with a small hum of invitation.
Morning passes into afternoon and moves toward evening, but the sky remains amethyst while the horizonal shimmer increases uniformly. At last the rows and rows of now very high trees break and Linda and dog-Linda find they have come to a steeply sloping meadow, a field cut at such an angle they stop short and peer down it, as it curves sharply down, its end obscured. The slope is vertiginous despite its being made of softest meadow, and sense that if they were to lose their balance they might roll off the end of the world. So at the boundary between the forest and this sloping field they stop, sit, and unwrap the food Linda brought. Linda can hear voices in a harmony so bare it’s almost dissonant, floating up from somewhere below or maybe behind them.
As they eat she watches a lone shrub that curls up out of the meadow that seems to her like a cipher or a decoy. She picks up a rock and hurls it at the shrub, and a huge flock of small birds — are they starlings? sparrows? — is released screaming into the sky. The shrub tips over, literally just tips over like Pisa or something or like a submarine hatch, and out of what looks like an ordinary sewer manhole crawls a man, causing Linda to admire the great clarity of the word “manhole.” He stands up, and against the still purple sky Linda can see that he’s not well. She calls to him and dog-Linda barks and he turns slowly, focusing his eyes on Linda and the dog and the line of trees behind them. He calls down the hole and another man crawls out of it carrying a burlap sack and walks straight to Linda. She starts to introduce herself when she is abruptly sacked like unruly livestock or so many potatoes. She feels herself heaved up and she starts to throw up, or panic, or fight back, or maybe none of those things. Maybe she just rests, takes pleasure in being carried, curling her knees in closer to her head and whistling to dog-Linda to come along. Meanwhile I have become distracted by a sudden recollection of the way the French toast looked on the plate when my whole family was in Philadelphia visiting my grandmother just before she turned irremediably fragile, and we went to breakfast at an upscale diner, with fresh flowers and retrofit turquoise vinyl booths. And so I don’t see exactly what happens to Linda or the dog, or how they get underground.
And now, listen to the next song in the Linda song cycle, Picture:
Jack’s directions to Lee: “Exerting great power, Triton belts Blastaar before he can blast again.”
Lee’s published dialogue is fairly self-explanatory. In many respects, it’s simply there to fill space. You don’t really want to distract the reader too much from Kirby’s awesome visuals, but you need to give the reader some prose, or they’ll finish the comic book in five minutes and feel like they were ripped-off. Adding some dialogue, whether relevant or not, forces the reader to linger on the page for a while longer. In fact, in his recent testimony in the Kirby vs. Disney/Marvel court case, Lee himself suggests this is indeed the case.
STAN LEE: “… Very often I would write dialogue to fill up spaces. In other words, I also indicated where the dialogue balloons and the captions should go on the artwork. And I might not have written so much if he had made the face bigger, but inasmuch as there was that space on the upper right-hand part of the page, I put in more dialogue to sort of dress up the — balance the panel with picture and dialogue.”
In my opinion, this panel is a perfect example of solid Kirby/Sinnott/Lee artwork. Kirby provides a remarkably dramatic action image, Sinnott inks the pencils to perfection, and Lee’s dialogue visually balances out the image — giving you a textbook example of an effective comic book illustration.
How bad is Nick Markakis right now? Seems a funny question considering he’s riding an 18-game hitting streak and has brought his average up to .282. In his last 14 games he’s hit .423. But drill down deeper and you’ll see Markakis’s problems at the plate haven’t gone away. In those 14 games, covering 53 plate appearances, Markakis has walked once. Home runs? Also just one — his power shows no sign of returning. So what’s happened in the last two weeks is that Markakis has taken his terrible season and added a lot of singles. And how did he start hitting so many singles? Unfortunately, it looks like it’s just luck — Markakis’ BABIP in the last 14 games is an insane .447. Those bloop singles won’t keep falling in all year, and you can expect Markakis’s BA to drop back towards its former dispiriting level over the next few weeks.
Bernoulli variables like to cancel: with all the strange business going on this season (bizarrely terrible Markakis, bizarrely good J.J. Hardy, the regression of Brian Matusz, etc. etc.) the Orioles are en route to winning 75 games or so, pretty much in line with pre-season projections.
CJ and I went to the Mallards afternoon game on Father’s Day. For the first time CJ was actually involved with the game; he spent innings 4-8 getting food and playing in the bounce house, to be sure, but after we went back to our seats he demanded to stay to the end of the game, a thriller that the Mallards won 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th after Andrew Barna walked, stole second, advanced to third on a passed ball, and scored on a wild pitch. Barna, who plays for Davidson College during the school year, is blogging the Mallards’ season game by game: highly recommended for anyone interested in a candid view of amateur ball, or what summer in Madison looks and feels like to a college kid away from home.
The bad news is that the “pigsicle” — a thick slab of bacon dipped in maple syrup and served on stick — is no longer served at the Maynard’s Slide-In stand at the Duck Pond. The good news is that it’s been replaced with the “chicken-fried pigsicle,” the same slab, battered and fried and served — on a stick, natch — with a cup of white gravy.
The old Mallards logo has been also been replaced, in favor of this peevish dude. I know, everybody wants a fierce mascot. But frankly, the maximal level of fierceness a mallard can attain is well below “I am a dangerous predator.” I think it hovers somewhere around “You took my parking space.”
It was very cute watching CJ dutifully and somewhat accurately stomp-stomp-clap along to “We Will Rock You.” But I think the Mallards are missing an opportunity by not encouraging fans to sing “We Will Duck You.”
ASPEN — If you can pry the lithium ion battery out of your device, you can probably charge it with Fenix International’s noteworthy USB charger. And you won’t need an annoying adapter, either.
The company developed the charger for use in Uganda and other developing world countries. It’s part of a whole suite of products Fenix designed to help local people to become one-stop electricity providers. But you can use it yourself, too. At the bottom of this post, you can see the Fenix charging my Canon G11 camera battery.
Here’s how the device works. Instead of using some proprietary cord conversion system, the charger just has little contacts that can clip onto almost any Li-Ion battery.
Doing away with all of the cords allows an entrepreneur in any place where mobile devices are abundant but power is scarce to be sure that he or she can charge most phones without carrying around a ton of little adapters.
The charger can plug into any computer or USB wall adapter, but Fenix designed it specifically to be plugged into the ReadySet, an all-in-one “intelligent battery” that can take in power from a variety of sources (bicycle generator, solar, the grid), store and smooth it, then spit it back out to charge phones or other appliances.
Fenix CEO Mike Lin has been working on designing new products for the developing world for years. I first ran into him in San Francisco, when he was working for Potenco on a pull-cord power generator. Here in Aspen, he’s carrying around the ReadySet and his chargers in his bag, where they combine to make a pretty effective demonstration of his vision for mobile power entrepreneurship in the developing world.
What might be more fascinating about the new charger, though, is that it’s a clear example of how technology designed for the “bottom of the pyramid” can bounce back to the developed world as a cheap and easy solution. As more and more entrepreneurs start to focus their efforts outside the OECD countries, I think we’re due for a lot more of this kind of cross-pollination. Keep an eye out for the Fenix, as it should be going to retail stores in the U.S. this year.
The one downside to the Fenix charger is that it requires you to pull the battery out of your gadget to charge it, which means that you can’t use it with your iPhone.
What’s your big idea? I’m wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop me or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.
Corridors make science-fiction believable, because they’re so utilitarian by nature – really they’re just a conduit to get from one (often overblown) set to another. So if any thought or love is put into one, if the production designer is smart enough to realise that corridors are the foundation on which larger sets are ‘sold’ to viewers – Martin Anderson
Beacon Press is celebrating Pride Month with a giveaway. Enter by tomorrow, June 30th, to win an autographed copy of A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski, a book The Bay Area Reporter called "A monumental achievement."
Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States features many people and pivotal events from U.S. History, those both well-known and lesser-known. Today we share three moments from America's queer history.
June 26, 1842: Loreta Velazquez is born in Havana, Cuba. She is one of approximately 1,000 women who assumed male identities in order to fight in the Civil War. Velazquez, who married a Texas army officer, enlisted in the Confederate army under the name Harry T. Buford without her husband’s knowledge. Velazquez continued to fight after he was killed, and reportedly served at Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, Fort Donelson, and was a spy for the Confederacy in Washington D.C. She published her memoirs in 1876.
June 28, 1969: New York City police raid the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village causing protests and violent street altercations between the homosexual community and the police over several days. Raids on gay clubs and bars were routine at the time, and the “Stonewall riots” were among the first instances of the homosexual community fighting back against government-sponsored persecution. A larger culture of political militance followed Stonewall, with slogans like “Gay Power” and Gay Liberation Front (GLF) emerging in its wake.
June 26, 2003: The Supreme Court rules on Lawrence v. Texas, throwing out 500-year-old sodomy laws across the country. The case arose when, on an anonymous tip, Houston police entered the apartment of the plaintiff and discovered him having consensual sex with another man. Both men were arrested and convicted under a Texas law that prohibits “deviate sexual intercourse.” In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court decided that these laws violated the individual’s right to engage in private, consensual sex and were therefore unconstitutional."
Images of Loreta Velazquez from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. Link.
“The Art of Camping captures the reader with a thoroughly researched, detailed and fascinating account of the origins of camping and its development as a recreational pastime. Interspersed with the author’s anecdotes of his formative years as a camper, The Art of Camping evokes the spirit of the campfire and then douses the flames in the reality of modern day life.” Read more
“I have been experimenting and researching unconventional methods of creating garments. The technique I have developed can also can be applied to create products. Wrapping synthetic fibre around a desired form or chosen objects fascinates me. Through a heating process, wound fibre transformes itself into a 3-dimensional moulded garment bringing expected and unexpected sculptural silhouettes.”
This past Migrating Forms festival opened with a screening of Melanie Gilligan’s feature-length film Popular Unrest, which is also available as five episodes on
Gilligan’s website. Set in a fictional future London, not unlike the present, Popular Unrest seizes upon the modern preoccupation with systems, data, and constant technological improvement. The story revolves around the influence of the “World Spirit,” a technological system that controls all transactions and social interactions with the aim of boosting productivity and increasing profitability. The world of the Spirit is a rational existence where everything is monitored, quantified, and rationally controlled.
At the film’s opening a mysterious disembodied knife brutally commits murder, while the 24 hour media cycle, punctuated by television advertisements for the spirit drones on in the background. Equally mysterious as the violent murders, people around the world are being inexplicably drawn together into what have been termed “groupings.” The plot of Popular Unrest centers on one such grouping, comprised of twelve individuals, from diverse backgrounds with nothing in common other than their overwhelming desire to come together. While the closeness the group feels towards each other is inconceivable in the rational terms of system transactions that govern their reality, they find comfort in their connection.
When a group of scientists approach them to conduct a study of their group and hopefully provide a scientific explanation for the phenomenon, they agree to participate. The biological causes of their behavior and the dehumanized and technological control of the spirit that approaches the world in terms of data and profit margins are pitted against the humanity of the grouping and the irrationality of life. They are, as the scientists tell them, like a snapshot taken by the system, a frozen moment of social exchange. They represent the Spirit’s reflexivity.
Ultimately, however, Gilligan is uncertain in the power of our humanity to resist the faith, comfort and often overwhelming power we invest in the quantifiable, data driven systems we ourselves have created.
About the Artist: Paolo Leandri drew and co-created the Ignatz-nominated Dr. Id and contributes to the hit indie-comics newspaper Pood, with work forthcoming in Image Comics’ Next Issue Project and unreturned calls from Marvel, Hollywood and the avenging aliens.
You can see someone made a stat of the original artwork, then pasted the original second dialogue balloon lower on the image. Lee may have felt there was too much blank space above the character Blastaar, and this revision made the image more balanced. Look at how perfect each one of Joe Sinnott’s straight-edge lines are throughout the entire image, but whoever made the change inserted the roof of a building over the second dialogue balloon which is somewhat wavy. Certainly not something a kid reading this comic book would ever notice, but still an interesting glimpse into the step-by-step process taking place.
On the right hand side of the page, Lee wrote a note to a member of his production staff, Sol Brodsky. The note says: “Sol, explosion comes from his fingertips! See pg 15/2.”
If you look closely at the artwork, you can see someone used white-out to obscure the area over and under Blastaar’s arm, probably to get rid of some Kirby/Sinnott crackle or the depiction of an energy blast. Lee writes in the margins in the second circle, “More speed lines,” which you can clearly see were added to the image because they are fairly shaky, once again, much different than Sinnott’s impeccable line-work.
In many respects, none of these little changes make a difference. This is one of my favorite images from the Kirby/Sinnott Fantastic Four series — I love the visual look of the character Blastaar shooting powerful bursts of energy from his fingertips, and the resulting mix of speed lines, Kirby debris, and famous Kirby/Sinnott crackle that visually represents the impact — so it could be argued that Stan Lee’s changes actually help the composition and make the image more powerful. Plus, as editor, Lee is focused on continuity: he wants the characters to behave in a relatively consistent and easily recognizable fashion. So, although the editorial changes seem like nit-picks on one level, I think this panel is a great example of how the Kirby/Lee/Sinnott collaboration worked very well.
I wonder if Lee was the one who inserted the sound effects. Obviously they were inked by Rosen in this book, and you can see traces of blue-line pencil underneath, so they may all be Stan’s idea. I don’t know about other readers but I never even noticed the sound effects as a kid. I wonder if some readers do actually read that “BTOOM!” text, or it simply serves as a visual element that Lee felt gave the page more of a wallop.
The author BREECE D’J PANCAKE (1952-79) wrote exactly one book of stories, which was published posthumously; he shot himself at the age of 26. Originally named Breece Dexter Pancake, he added John when he converted to Catholicism; his name was misprinted with “D’J” in the middle when he published his first short story in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1977. He liked it and kept it that way. Pancake’s stories, in which I always and every time find something new, something bottomless that makes me breathe differently for a time after reading, were mostly set in the Appalachian (West Virginia) world in which he grew up. He often explored the dark, un-ending despair of his characters (and of himself). This is how he ends his story “Trilobites“:
I get up. I’ll spend tonight at home. I’ve got eyes to shut in Michigan — maybe even Germany or China, I don’t know yet. I walk, but I’m not scared. I feel my fear moving away in rings through time for a million years.
Pancake attended graduate school at The University of Virginia and once wrote home to his mother: “I’m going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There’s something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I’ll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don’t want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave.”
“high school epitomized that exact ideal: let’s segregate the “top” scholastic talent (i.e, “non-threatening-looking”) of black children in our school system from the core group of black students we cant identify with and place them for the duration of their high school experience within the classroom of “top” white students (i.e, also “non-threatening-looking”, but smattered with the “popular-pretty” and the “popular-dumb jock” - those best suited to take full scholastic advantage of the “studious uncool”)… this meant that i was the only black guy, along with 4 black girls, in my classroom for the entire four years (the “excel program” was an experimental program - no need in placing more than one ‘gifted’ black male into a study group, not until we know exactly what they are capable of!)…”
- more than mud, who is this guy and why is he reading my diary out loud?
Yemoja: sir, this is not a spelling bee. Elegba was asking you to explain yourself.
brothadirt: oh. okay. gotcha. you know, i’ve been up all night making last minute edits
anshit. working on art. its kinda hard to concentrate at times. plus,
i see that Coyolxauhqui is watching one life to live and i’m trying not to
hear what’s happenin’ between Sammy and EJ… i have tivo and i’m wantin’ to
watch this later on when i get home.
Sun Ra: i pegged you as a young and the restless type of guy…
The mathematical constant pi is under threat from a group of detractors who will be marking "Tau Day" on Tuesday.
Tau Day revellers suggest a constant called tau should take its place: twice as large as pi, or about 6.28 - hence the 28 June celebration.
Tau proponents say that for many problems in maths, tau makes more sense and makes calculations easier.
"I like to describe myself as the world's leading anti-pi propagandist," said Michael Hartl, an educator and former theoretical physicist.
"When I say pi is wrong, it doesn't have any flaws in its definition - it is what you think it is, a ratio of circumference to diameter. But circles are not about diameters, they're about radii; circles are the set of all the points a given distance - a radius - from the centre," Dr Hartl explained to BBC News.
By defining pi in terms of diameter, he said, "what you're really doing is defining it as the ratio of the circumference to twice the radius, and that factor of two haunts you throughout mathematics."
ASPEN — Twitter has played a celebrated role in the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa this year that have come to be known as “the Arab spring.” The social network has been one of activists’ favorite tools for quickly organizing themselves and raising support for real-world demonstrations.
Even before this year, Twitter had been seen as a catalyst for change in the Middle East. In June of 2009, protests following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran had a notable social media component. One former national security advisor even said Twitter should get a Noble Peace Prize, an idea that Biz Stone mentioned in an article he wrote for The Atlantic‘s Technology channel.
So, while many people are covering the “relaunch” of Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jason Goldman’s venture, The Obvious Corporation, I was more interested in Stone’s attitude towards international affairs. I was legitimately surprised that Stone sat before a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival today and declared that Twitter had to remain a “neutral” technology and cast aspersions on Twitter’s long-noted relationship with the State Department.
Here’s his statement as I transcribed and lightly cleaned it up from my recording:
The thing we’re facing now is that, you know, the State Department is suddenly really cozy with Twitter because they are like, “Oh wow, we were trying to get this done with AK-47s and you guys got it done with Tweets. Can we be friends?” But I maintain that it has to be a neutral technology because there are different forms of democracy. You don’t want your technology, you don’t want Twitter, to look like it’s simply a tool for spreading U.S. democracy around the world. You want it to help for good, but you don’t want it to look like you’re in the pocket of the U.S. government. So we try to speak out and say that they have no access to our decision-making.
Or you can hear him respond to Walter Isaacson’s leading question about what he sees as the positive relationship between information technology and democracy for yourself. This isn’t a case of someone getting trapped on stage into saying something he doesn’t believe.
Stone has made the very last point several times, but it’s done little to dampen the perception that Twitter is a tool for would-be revolutionaries who want attention from the State Department.
Now that Stone is largely just an investor and advisor for Twitter, I wonder how Jack Dorsey feels about him calling Twitter’s relationship with State into question. At the very least, it signals that not everyone associated with Twitter is interested in being seen as a tool of the oppressed.
What’s your big idea? I’m wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop me or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.
ASPEN — Hanna Rosin is an Atlantic contributor with a sharp eye for the social consequences of demographic shifts. Her article from last year, “The End of Men,” proved one of the most popular of the 2010 and continues to spark conversations about today’s gender relations.
Here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rosin debuted what I think might be her next big demographic idea: economic pressures will force a rethink of what American families are and ought to be. Here’s the capsule version of the idea she presented on Monday. It’s been condensed and lightly edited.
In other countries, people value filial duty and sticking around the family home, but in America we value independence. You’re supposed to — after you graduate from college — leave the house. You’re supposed to pay your own rent. You’re supposed to find a spouse and raise your own children. But lately that process has gotten blocked. The latest census shows that in the age group 25 to 34, 5.5 million Americans are living with their parents.
And here’s what’s worse: the grandparents are moving in, too.
There is a new phenomenon in America called the multigenerational household. It now accounts for about 16 percent of American households, which is by far the highest it has been almost since the Great Depression, more like since the 1950s…
Nonetheless, I’m choosing to see the silver lining. What is the silver lining? The American family is long overdue for a definitional overhaul. We’ve got 40 percent of children who are now born to single mothers or at least parents who are not married. We’ve got gay families. We’ve got adoptive families. We’ve got fertility technology, which makes almost every kind of family possible. So I’m thinking we can stop calling on the traditional family as our vision of the American family.
What’s your big idea? I’m wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop me or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.
There’s one pointed question I’ve seen crop up in a number of conversations about the settlement:
Isn’t it wrong that Andy chose to pay the licensing fees for the music but not for the photograph?
This question makes the assumption that Andy could have paid the licensing fees to Maisel like he did for the music. He couldn’t have. This is because Jay Maisel refused to license the image and there’s no compulsory license for photography like there is for musical compositions.
A compulsory license is what it sounds like: the owner of the underlying musical composition is required, by law, to license it to anyone who wants to use it at a predetermined rate. This prohibits song writers from picking and choosing who gets to perform their works. It also allows Andy to license, at a fair rate, the underlying song compositions from a Miles Davis album to make a new album of original recordings (remember, copyrights to recordings are different from copyrights to the compositions of a song).
The copyright of photographic works, unlike works of music composition, is not subject to a compulsory license.
This means that photographers, unlike song writers, can forbid anyone from reusing their work, whether it is for a poster or for an album cover.
Now, artists like Jay Maisel obviously enjoy this absolute control over their work because it lets them dictate who uses their art and when. Song writers, unfortunately aren’t afforded to this their published works.
So while no one could have prevented Andy from recording an album of remixed music written by Miles Davis — not even Miles Davis himself if he were alive — the same does not hold for a photo of Miles Davis.
Remember, Maisel admitted he would have refused to license to Andy the rights to the photo. So Andy’s only option, short of not using the photo at all, was to use the 8-bit remix cover and wager it was a fair use.
That Andy could, in one case, hire artists to legally remix music by paying a compulsory license, but in another case had to make an expensive and risky bet on fair use (a bet that didn’t pan out) feels unfair.
Put another way: why are composers required to license their compositions at a fair rate to anyone, but yet virtually every other type of artist doesn’t have to play by the same rule?
I doubt anyone would argue that song composition is a lesser art or any less deserving of full royalties than other arts.
One reason is that the practicalities of compulsory rights for photographs (and other works) are hard to imagine. Music compositions are written, then performed, then recorded, whereas photographs are snapped and then printed. There’s no underlying right in a photograph (thank goodness) to its “composition” like there is for a piece of music. So that is part of why compulsory licenses for photos don’t exist.
But I think another part of the story is that the law has evolved the musical compulsory license as an implicit acknowledgement that music compositions are both maleable and fundamental components to our culture. Compulsory licenses make possible everything from karaoke bars to cover bands to remixes like Andy’s. The alternative — allocating complete power to composers over who reuses their work — yields transactional costs on culture that are simply too high. The law hasn’t felt the same way for the visual works.
So will other art forms, like photography, adopt compulsory licenses? I doubt it, but I can’t help but they’d be a great compromise in light of Andy’s settlement. I asked Andy over email whether he would have paid a mechanical license for the photo:
“Absolutely. If the laws and protocols for remixing photos were as clear and fair as covering music, I would’ve bought a mechanical license for the photo in a heartbeat. But the laws around visual art are frustratingly vague, and requiring someone’s permission to create art that doesn’t affect the market for the original doesn’t seem right. I didn’t think it would be a problem, especially considering the scope of my project, but I was wrong. Nobody should need a law degree to understand whether art is legal or not.”