Anton Chekhov

Virtuosity and formal rigor, grand themes, morality and power across time and space, all bolstered by the weight of a huge nation with a keen sense of loss — when you’re reading Dostoyevsky or watching Tarkovsky, you know that you’re experiencing Art. Russian physician and author ANTON CHEKHOV (1860–1904) preferred the quiet breath of bitter laughter to the shouts of heroes or the wail of tragedy; less redemption, less justification. Chekhov’s characters endure smaller failures — frequently, misplaced confidence that others think and experience the world as they do — and their situation tends to remain unchanged. The coffin-maker who measures his dying wife as she leans on a stove, the cab driver whose fares won’t listen to him lament his dead son (so he tells his horse), the 9-year-old orphan slave who desperately mails a plea for help, addressed, “To Grandfather in the village,” and then falls asleep imagining the precise details of happier days ahead. The little absurdities that might ruin a single life fascinated Chekhov, and his simple style — instead of moralizing or narrative thrills, he aimed for “total objectivity,” “audacity and originality,” and “compassion” — allows us to feel what we will about them. He wasn’t talking about Art, just the specifics of life and death; it’s not that big a deal.

***

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: W.C. Fields.

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Little Boxes #125: Snow Crush Killing Song

(from Black Blizzard, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, 2010)

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interview with Michael Barera, Ford Presidential Library’s new Wikipedian in Residence

White campaign tab with “WIN” in bold, red letters accompanied by a small red fish.

I had read with interest the articles that came out recently about the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library getting a Wikipedian in Residence. For more info, see this a short article about the library’s exhibits coordinator Bettina Cousineau talking about the library’s participation in the GLAM-Wiki Initiative (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia), and a little more about the Wikipedian in Residence program.

I think this program is nifty and I was excited this time because the WiR is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s iSchool. I dropped him a line and asked if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. Here is a small Q&A (done over email) with Michael Barera about his new internship.

JW: The Ann Arbor Journal says you’ve been a Wikipedian since 2001. Is that a typo or have you been an editor there for over ten years? In any case, what first brought you to Wikipedia or the Wikimedia school of websites? What is your favorite thing about working on Wikipedia?

MB: 2001 isn’t exactly the true year that I started on Wikipedia: I found the site first in 2005, and made my first edit in 2006. 2001 is the year of the oldest photograph that I have uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, so in a way my contributions go back to 2001, although I didn’t edit Wikipedia or Commons until 2006. I was actually introduced to Wikipedia by my high school Western Civilization teacher in 2005, which is interesting because most people don’t have such an academic entry into the site: perhaps he was part of the reason why I’ve always taken it seriously.

For the first year or so, before I made my first edit, I used Wikipedia essentially as an extension of my social studies textbook: I’ve always loved how much more inclusive it is than the mainstream social studies curriculum in this country. My favorite thing about working on Wikipedia is sharing everything I’ve created or contributed with everyone in the world. We all chip in a little, and because of the CC-BY-SA and GFDL licenses, everyone gets to share and enjoy in the totality, all without ads or paywalls or subscriptions. I love the fact that it really is “the free encyclopedia”, both in the “gratis” and “libre” senses of the word.

JW: You went to UMich for your undergrad work and now you’re pursuing your Masters at the School of Information. Is this internship a natural outgrowth of what you planned to do at the iSchool or is it more of a side hobby that turned into a big deal? What are your interest areas at the iSchool?

MB: The beautiful thing is that it is both part of my career plan at SI and an outgrowth of a multi-year hobby. That’s why it is so perfect for me, because it allows me to use both my U of M bachelor’s degree (which has a concentration in History) and my knowledge and experience with Wikipedia, all in one package. In terms of my areas of interest at SI, I am specializing in Archives and Records Management (and maybe dual-specializing in Preservation of Information as well), but I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve taken so far, from human interaction in information retrieval to Python programming to dead media. SI really is a perfect fit for me!

JW: Sort of a silly question but are you literally “in residence” meaning that you get to go work at the library? Or is it more of a virtual residency?

MB: I’m literally “in residence” at the Library four hours per week, but as you know Wikipedia can’t be confined to just one place at a certain time, so there is plenty of spill-over above and beyond these four hours. It is rather interesting to have an internship that literally bleeds into my free time, but I love editing Wikipedia, so I can’t complain!

JW: This project seems like it’s sort of a trial partnership experiment for both Wikipedia and a US cultural institution. What are you hoping will come out of this partnership in addition to the stated goals of making more of the library’s public domain holdings available via Wikipedia?

MB: Well, to be fair, a number of US cultural institutions have already had Wikipedians in Residence: the National Archives and Records Administration, the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, Consumer Reports, and the Smithsonian Institution have all beaten the Ford Presidential Library and Museum to the punch. For me, the biggest goals of my internship (in addition to the obvious desire to improve content on Wikipedia) are to foster and maintain a relationship between the Wikimedia movement and the Ford as well as to encourage content experts, like the people I work with at the Ford, to create Wikipedia accounts and to become Wikipedians themselves. I know it can be daunting at first, but there are lots of long-time users who are happy to give their help and guidance, myself included. We won’t bite the newcomers!

JW. Do you feel a little odd about being in a fishbowl with all of your Wikipedia edits and actions being visible or is this par for the course for you? What do you think is people’s largest misunderstanding about Wikipedia?

MB: Well, all of my Wikipedia edits and actions have always been visible (that’s the nature of the MediaWiki software), and while there is certainly an upsurge in media attention and awareness about the internship or me specifically, I don’t think that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people paging through my edits or watching my talkpage. On Wikipedia, I still feel like a private citizen: I think most of the media attention has been at a very basic level, and I think some of it struggles to grasp the nuances of what I am doing or even the structure of Wikipedia itself, which brings me to your last question. In terms of people’s largest misunderstanding about Wikipedia, I think it is the simple fact that we are an encyclopedia: a tertiary source without original research. We are not a blog or a forum for anyone to post whatever he or she wants to post, but rather a dedicated and thoughtful group of “collectors” trying to assemble the world’s best encyclopedia piece by piece, bit by bit.

I think we sometimes get lumped in with other social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, and while there are a few commonalities (like the fact each is made up of user-generated content), Wikipedia really is a lot more like Britannica than it is like a blog, at least in terms of the content itself and the work that goes on behind the scenes.

[these are follow-up questions from a few days after our initial exchange]

MB: I’ve always loved how much more inclusive it is than the mainstream social studies curriculum in this country.

JW: I’m with you there. Are there any particular examples that stand out to you?

MB: During my elementary, middle, and high school careers, I discovered that my history/social studies education was essentially a history of Western Europe and North America. While the curriculum has improved dramatically in terms of coverage of Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans in the last few decades, there is very little Latin American, Eastern European, African, Asian, or Oceanian history taught at the primary or secondary levels in this country (and just about all of it directly impacts the United States, typically in negative ways, such as Vietnam’s one cameo appearance in American history during the Vietnam War). I think the heart of this issue is the old belief that history is “national myth-making” is still alive and well in this country, at least below the post-secondary level.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved how different history is at the college level: as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, it was refreshing to take history courses covering nearly every corner of the world that both attempted to show that country’s perspective and then critique it at the same time. My modern French history (1871-present) and Soviet/Russian history classes were the best examples, and I would highly recommend my professors, Joshua Cole and Ronald Grigor Suny, to anyone: they do it the right way, and I for one wish I had more exposure to that kind of “real history” when I was younger. Long story short, Wikipedia is much more like this post-secondary, “real history” than “national myth-making”, so I always enjoyed how much more objective Wikipedia is (although not perfectly objective, of course).

JW: One of the things that has been challenging for me in Wikipedia outreach is trying to convince people that they don’t need to get someone to do the editing, that they can be bold and dive in. Do you have any particular approach to trying to get people to get comfortable making their own edits?

MB: My advice for getting people to start contributing is simple. The next time our hypothetical potential editor is on Wikipedia, I would encourage him or her to create an account and then just stay logged in while reading articles. Anytime he or she spots a small error, such as a typo or punctuation issue, he or she should just go ahead and change it. Actually, an account isn’t even needed: readers can (on most articles) make such minor corrections without an account, too. Still, this notion of starting small is the real key, in my opinion: just start with the little things and become comfortable with the editing interface (and the notion of editing a wiki itself), and eventually that new editor will feel comfortable making larger and more substantial edits. That’s how it was for me many years ago.

JW: Are there other online reference sources (crowdsourced or not) online that are your “go to” sites when you are trying to do research either for Wikipedia or your other projects?

MB: The resources I use for referencing Wikipedia articles are broad and diverse, and they range widely from topic to topic, as is to be expected. One commonality, though, is that I use a lot of newspaper and journal articles: in most cases, they are reliable secondary sources that are very good at establishing the core facts that lie at the heart of the Wikipedia article. One hint for maintaining NPOV is to try to recognize the different sources and balance them with each other. For example, on the article on the 2001 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game, I made sure to use both the U of M and MSU athletic departments’ press releases and game notes.

And, in an even better example from my work on the article Queens of Noise (The Runaways’ sophomore album from 1977), I tried to effectively balance multiple perspectives on the content, including the recollections of Jackie Fox and direct quotes about specific songs and events from Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and Kim Fowley. Most interestingly, that article includes two separate (and contradictory) accounts of why Jett sang lead vocals instead of Currie on one of the songs, one given by Fox and the other by Currie. The key is to make it clear who is saying what where, and so like the “real history” taught in colleges and universities across the nation (and the world), the article has become an effort to show the different perspectives in conversation with each other instead of just giving one point of view (as is the case with “national myth-making”).

JW: Cheers and thanks for doing this for me.

MB: My pleasure! Thanks for the interview, and take care!

Uncategorized

Changing attitudes to smartphones, via…

Changing attitudes to smartphones, via http://twitter.yfrog.com/z/kf71qluj

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copy of THING on the thing untitledprojects: Untitled Project:…

copy of THING on the thing

Untitled Project: SIGN [Thing]
oil on carved wood, 2008

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Beacon Buzz: Prairie Silence, women in the military, and more!

Notable Mentions

Prairie Silence: A Memoir by Melanie Hoffert

An essay by Melanie Hoffert in Huffington Post Religion: “The Reason Nice Wyoming Knights of Columbus Members Terrify Me”

“Grandpa wants you honey.” This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: “This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book.”

The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa’s pride, I don’t. Instead, I pretend I don’t hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can’t compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.

A feature in the Grand Forks Herald explores Hoffert’s life in North Dakota, her writing process, and coming out in a small town.

Listen to the author on Hear It Now/Prairie Public Radio.

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
by Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict wrote this op-ed about the end of the ban on women in ground combat:

The Pentagon’s announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.

As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier – fighting – they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.

The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them – an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]

Helen Benedict was also quoted in these articles about the lifting of the combat ban and ROTC on campus at Columbia, and she was the recipient of the Ida B. Wells award for Bravery in Journalism

Benedict appears in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War

Seattle Times review:

Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”

Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods by Michael Shelton

Philadelphia Weekly blog PhillyNow Q&A with author Michael Shelton

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
by Chris Stedman

“Commentary” by Chris posted on Advocate.com

Interview with NPR’s Interfaith Voices

Montana State University’s newspaper, Exponent, produced a video about Stedman’s recent visit to the school

Uncategorized

Beacon Buzz: Prairie Silence, women in the military, and more!

Notable Mentions

Prairie Silence: A Memoir by Melanie Hoffert

An essay by Melanie Hoffert in Huffington Post Religion: “The Reason Nice Wyoming Knights of Columbus Members Terrify Me”

“Grandpa wants you honey.” This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: “This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book.”

The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa’s pride, I don’t. Instead, I pretend I don’t hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can’t compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.

A feature in the Grand Forks Herald explores Hoffert’s life in North Dakota, her writing process, and coming out in a small town.

Listen to the author on Hear It Now/Prairie Public Radio.

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
by Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict wrote this op-ed about the end of the ban on women in ground combat:

The Pentagon’s announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.

As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier – fighting – they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.

The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them – an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]

Helen Benedict was also quoted in these articles about the lifting of the combat ban and ROTC on campus at Columbia, and she was the recipient of the Ida B. Wells award for Bravery in Journalism

Benedict appears in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War

Seattle Times review:

Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”

Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods by Michael Shelton

Philadelphia Weekly blog PhillyNow Q&A with author Michael Shelton

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
by Chris Stedman

“Commentary” by Chris posted on Advocate.com

Interview with NPR’s Interfaith Voices

Montana State University’s newspaper, Exponent, produced a video about Stedman’s recent visit to the school

Uncategorized

Beacon Buzz: Prairie Silence, women in the military, and more!

Notable Mentions

Prairie Silence: A Memoir by Melanie Hoffert

An essay by Melanie Hoffert in Huffington Post Religion: “The Reason Nice Wyoming Knights of Columbus Members Terrify Me”

“Grandpa wants you honey.” This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: “This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book.”

The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa’s pride, I don’t. Instead, I pretend I don’t hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can’t compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.

A feature in the Grand Forks Herald explores Hoffert’s life in North Dakota, her writing process, and coming out in a small town.

Listen to the author on Hear It Now/Prairie Public Radio.

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
by Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict wrote this op-ed about the end of the ban on women in ground combat:

The Pentagon’s announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.

As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier – fighting – they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.

The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them – an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]

Helen Benedict was also quoted in these articles about the lifting of the combat ban and ROTC on campus at Columbia, and she was the recipient of the Ida B. Wells award for Bravery in Journalism

Benedict appears in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War

Seattle Times review:

Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”

Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods by Michael Shelton

Philadelphia Weekly blog PhillyNow Q&A with author Michael Shelton

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
by Chris Stedman

“Commentary” by Chris posted on Advocate.com

Interview with NPR’s Interfaith Voices

Montana State University’s newspaper, Exponent, produced a video about Stedman’s recent visit to the school

Uncategorized

Beacon Buzz: Prairie Silence, women in the military, and more!

Notable Mentions

Prairie Silence: A Memoir by Melanie Hoffert

An essay by Melani Hoffert in Huffington Post Religion: “The Reason Nice Wyoming Knights of Columbus Members Terrify Me”

“Grandpa wants you honey.” This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: “This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book.”

The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa’s pride, I don’t. Instead, I pretend I don’t hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can’t compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.

A feature in the Grand Forks Herald explores Hoffert’s life in North Dakota, her writing process, and coming out in a small town.

Listen to the author on Hear It Now/Prairie Public Radio.

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
by Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict wrote this op-ed about the end of the ban on women in ground combat:

The Pentagon’s announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.

As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier – fighting – they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.

The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them – an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]

Helen Benedict was also quoted in these articles about the lifting of the combat ban and ROTC on campus at Columbia, and she was the recipient of the Ida B. Wells award for Bravery in Journalism

Benedict appears in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War

Seattle Times review:

Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”

Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods by Michael Shelton

Philadelphia Weekly blog PhillyNow Q&A with author Michael Shelton

Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
by Chris Stedman

“Commentary” by Chris posted on Advocate.com

Interview with NPR’s Interfaith Voices

Montana State University’s newspaper, Exponent, produced a video about Stedman’s recent visit to the school

Uncategorized

The Artifice of Videography at 24 Frames per Second

From Rodney Graham’s Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005, 35mm film loop shown on a custom 48 FPS projector

As of November 2012, the last packages of light-sensitive film vanished from the racks of my local department store. The meager supply of 35mm roll film and disposable cameras disappeared, and with it came the reality that the changeover from analog to digital image acquisition is finally wrapping up. Equally visible changes are happening in the cinemas, where video projectors have slowly replaced film projectors. However, there is one curious, rarely questioned holdover from the analog era that persists among many motion photographers to this day.

The current trend of using digital filters to artificially age or alter one’s snapshots has been criticized extensively, but this editorial is not about the artifice of premature aging or planned glitches. It is about an odd trait of motion picture film that lives on in the many digital cameras, video cameras and smartphone apps whose superior functionality quickened the decline of film in stores and cinemas.

In the nascent years of motion picture photography, there were no hard-and-fast rules on how many images should be captured per second. With both cameras and projectors hand-cranked by individual operators in those early days, the amount of frames seen every second by viewers in the silent film era could vary between 12 to 26 FPS (frames per second) under typical viewing conditions. By the 1930′s, after decades of wildly varying frame rates, the addition of sound dictated a constant playback speed to avoid variations in audio pitch (ever try to play a record by moving the turntable with your finger?) The standard of 24 FPS was established as the minimum rate by which professional movie cameras and projectors would record and project still images to accurately create the illusion of motion. It was the lowest frame rate by which films could be seen without a pronounced flicker; any higher speed would be a waste of film. By this time, early television experimenters were working out their own technical guidelines, but they were bound by a different set of constraints.

TV engineers in countries with 60 Hertz electrical grids adopted video transmission and recording systems that operated at 30 FPS, and for 50 Hertz countries, 25 FPS.  (This even halving of frame rates was to reduce interference from the power grid.) Both systems employed a bandwidth-saving technique called “interlacing” that split each frame into two interpolated fields, which further increased the perceived frame rate. When these video standards were adopted mid-century, the frame rate of professional motion picture film was already set, leaving film and video with their own distinct “look.” Film quickly became the more expensive option for moving image recording soon after the debut of videotape in the late 1950′s, but the lower quality of standard definition video was obvious to all.

For many viewers of television and cinema, 24 FPS could easily be discerned from 30 or even 25 FPS, and the slightly blurred action of 24 FPS became one of the most recognizable traits of the “film look.” Thusly, 30 FPS became associated with low-budget, shot-on-video movie productions. Film was the preferred medium of any auteur seeking high technical standards and mainstream credibility. For several decades, video was a last resort, and film was a badge of honor. For the aspirational filmmaker of the 1990′s, various workarounds became available to make their video recording resemble film. 25 FPS video cameras intended for the European market were used to acquire footage and the video was slowed down in post-production by 4% to 24 FPS. This method was useful to ensure a smooth migration from video to film, should the budget-minded director be lucky enough to land a screening at a film festival, of which many were strictly film-only.

In the early 2000′s, affordable video cameras appeared on the market that could acquire footage in 24 FPS natively. Filmmakers could finally bypass the work of adapting their video for film output in post production. At this point, however, video projection systems were improving and the need for a film print became less essential. To the delight of many, it became easy to make video content that was passably film-like, even with no prospective need for an actual film copy. In the past decade, high definition video finally began to match or exceed the image quality of 35mm movie film as seen in a typical cinema. With the installation of HD video projectors in theaters, viewers will not be exposed to glitches such as the wiggly vertical lines seen when film is scratched or errant pieces of thread jittering at the bottom of the frame; These artifacts are happily eliminated and forgotten by even the most ardent cheerleaders of film, but some still insist on 24 FPS in a loop of cyclical reasoning.

We are indoctrinated to associate this frame rate with high-budget, sophisticated productions, but it will not change the fact that the “film look” of 24 FPS video is ultimately a compression artifact. Continued use of this standard for contemporary purposes is little more than an Instagram-style “nostalgic filter,” as garish and unexamined as a sepia-toned screenshot of an instant message conversation from a smartphone. There is no practical advantage to shooting new 24 FPS video, save for hand drawn or stop-motion animation. With the end of film and the economic constraints that it imposed, I’m left to wonder what exactly 24 FPS video is aspiring to imitate.

Jesse England is a media artist who resides in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Upcoming

Interesting conference on British women's history coming up at Columbia on Feb. 8-9. More details here. And on a related note, I am very keen to read this book!

Having a morning of work catch-up (administrative rather than writing), but will go to this yoga workshop at 10. It has truly been spa month!

Also: this is an idea of genius. Unfortunately I don't use gmail (I run Thunderbird as my main program, but the web-based option is the hopelessly out-of-date Cubmail) - I have to see if I can get transferred to Lionmail....
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Upcoming

Interesting conference on British women's history coming up at Columbia on Feb. 8-9. More details here. And on a related note, I am very keen to read this book!

Having a morning of work catch-up (administrative rather than writing), but will go to this yoga workshop at 10. It has truly been spa month!

Also: this is an idea of genius. Unfortunately I don't use gmail (I run Thunderbird as my main program, but the web-based option is the hopelessly out-of-date Cubmail) - I have to see if I can get transferred to Lionmail....
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The Slow Build

I thought of Andrew Renzi’s short film The Fort after seeing Michael Haneke’s Amour this weekend. On the surface, the two works are unalike: Haneke’s aged protagonists live in a genteel apartment where nature only makes occasional intrusions—cut flowers, a lost pigeon—while Renzi’s much-younger characters play out their scene in a forest awakening to verdant, sodden Spring. But Renzi’s piece, a 2012 Sundance selection, partakes of the same quality of disquiet that hangs over every Haneke shot, as well as a measure of the Austrian filmmaker’s patience, a slowness that is anything but languor.

You will wonder what has transpired between the boy and the man; I think the truth lies not in any disturbing revelation, but in quiet, contained grief. It’s suggested by a long macro shot, at about 4:20, of a mound of clover or cress, vitally green, which for me evokes a remark made by Adolf Loos on the origins of architecture: “If we find a mound in the forest…then we become solemn and something tells us: somebody lies buried here….” This low mound is not the only structure in The Fort, but it may be the most telling one; and I appreciate the way Renzi lingers on it.

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“Data tax would work like pollution tax, the report’s authors propose. The report was written…”

Data tax would work like pollution tax, the report’s authors propose. The report was written by Nicolas Colin, an advisor to the government and founder and former CEO of a digital marketing company, and Pierre Collin, a tax auditor. The more personal data collected, the more tax would be attracted, the authors propose. But more than sheer quantity will be taken into account.

The taxation would be on the premise that the holiday photos of a Facebook user and the search history of a Google user both count as “work” that that the user has done for those companies, because it is a product against which those companies can (and do) sell advertising.

- Oh, those crazy Frenchies: Facebook faces family photo tax in France • The Register
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Chess Match (37)

“All this twaddle, the existence of God, atheism, determinism, liberation, societies, death, etc., are pieces of a chess game called language, and they are amusing only if one does not preoccupy oneself with ‘winning or losing this game of chess.”
― Marcel Duchamp

***

Thirty-seventh in an occasional series.

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“Daddy. I want a squirrel!” secretcinema1: Man…

Man Checking Roof of Building, New York, 1964, Arthur Lavine

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Y. Zhao and the Roberts conjecture over function fields

Before the developments of the last few years the only thing that was known about the Cohen-Lenstra conjecture was what had already been known before the Cohen-Lenstra conjecture; namely, that the number of cubic fields of discriminant between -X and X could be expressed as

$\frac{1}{3\zeta(3)} X + o(X)$.

It isn’t hard to go back and forth between the count of cubic fields and the average size of the 3-torsion part of the class group of quadratic fields, which gives the connection with Cohen-Lenstra in its usual form.

Anyway, Datskovsky and Wright showed that the asymptotic above holds (for suitable values of 12) over any global field of characteristic at least 5.  That is:  for such a field K, you let N_K(X) be the number of cubic extensions of K whose discriminant has norm at most X; then

$N_K(X) = c_K \zeta_K(3)^{-1} X + o(X)$

for some explicit rational constant $c_K$.

One interesting feature of this theorem is that, if it weren’t a theorem, you might doubt it was true!  Because the agreement with data is pretty poor.  That’s because the convergence to the Davenport-Heilbronn limit is extremely slow; even if you let your discriminant range up to ten million or so, you still see substantially fewer cubic fields than you’re supposed to.

In 2000, David Roberts massively clarified the situation, formulating a conjectural refinement of the Davenport-Heilbronn theorem motivated by the Shintani zeta functions:

$N_{\mathbf{Q}}(X) = (1/3)\zeta(3)^{-1} X + c X^{5/6} + o(X^{5/6})$

with c an explicit (negative) constant.  The secondary term with an exponent very close to 1 explains the slow convergence to the Davenport-Heilbronn estimate.

The Datskovsky-Wright argument works over an arbitrary global field but, like most arguments that work over both number fields and function fields, it is not very geometric.  I asked my Ph.D. student Yongqiang Zhao, who’s finishing this year, to revisit the question of counting cubic extensions of a function field F_q(t) from a more geometric point of view to see if he could get results towards the Roberts conjecture.  And he did!  Which is what I want to tell you about.

But while Zhao was writing his thesis, there was a big development — the Roberts conjecture was proved.  Not only that — it was proved twice!  Once by Bhargava, Shankar, and Tsimerman, and once by Thorne and Taniguchi, independently, simultaneously, and using very different methods.  It is certainly plausible that these methods can give the Roberts conjecture over function fields, but at the moment, they don’t.

Neither does Zhao, yet — but he’s almost there, getting

$N_K(T) = \zeta_K(3)^{-1} X + O(X^{5/6 + \epsilon})$

for all rational function fields K = F_q(t) of characteristic at least 5.  And his approach illuminates the geometry of the situation in a very beautiful way, which I think sheds light on how things work in the number field case.

Geometrically speaking, to count cubic extensions of F_q(t) is to count trigonal curves over F_q.  And the moduli space of trigonal curves has a classical unirational parametrization, which I learned from Mike Roth many years ago:  given a trigonal curve Y, you push forward the structure sheaf along the degree-3 map to P^1, yielding a rank-3 vector bundle on P^1; you mod out by the natural copy of the structure sheaf; and you end up with a rank-2 vector bundle W on P^1, whose projectivization is a rational surface in which Y embeds.  This rational surface is a Hirzebruch surface F_k, where k is an integer determined by the isomorphism class of the vector bundle W.  (This story is the geometric version of the Delone-Fadeev parametrization of cubic rings by binary cubic forms.)

This point of view replaces a problem of counting isomorphism classes of curves (hard!) with a problem of counting divisors in surfaces (not easy, but easier.)  It’s not hard to figure out what linear system on F_k contains Y.  Counting divisors in a linear system is nothing but a dimension count, but you have to be careful — in this problem, you only want to count smooth members.  That’s a substantially more delicate problem.  Counting all the divisors is more or less the problem of counting all cubic rings; that problem, as the number theorists have long known, is much easier than the problem of counting just the maximal orders in cubic fields.

Already, the geometric meaning of the negative secondary term becomes quite clear; it turns out that when k is big enough (i.e. if the Hirzebruch surface is twisty enough) then the corresponding linear system has no smooth, or even irreducible, members!  So what “ought” to be a sum over all k is rudely truncated; and it turns out that the sum over larger k that “should have been there” is on order X^{5/6}.

So how do you count the smooth members of a linear system?  When the linear system is highly ample, this is precisely the subject of Poonen’s well-known “Bertini theorem over finite fields.”  But the trigonal linear systems aren’t like that; they’re only “semi-ample,” because their intersection with the fiber of projection F_k -> P^1 is fixed at 3.  Zhao shows that, just as in Poonen’s case, the probability that a member of such a system is smooth converges to a limit as the linear system gets more complicated; only this limit is computed, not as a product over points P of the probability D is smooth at P, but rather a product over fibers F of the probability that D is smooth along F.  (This same insight, arrived at independently, is central to the paper of Erman and Wood I mentioned last week.)

This alone is enough for Zhao to get a version of Davenport-Heilbronn over F_q(t) with error term O(X^{7/8}), better than anything that was known for number fields prior to last year.  How he gets even closer to Roberts is too involved to go into on the blog, but it’s the best part, and it’s where the algebraic geometry really starts; the main idea is a very careful analysis of what happens when you take a singular curve on a Hirzebruch surface and start carrying out elementary transforms at the singular points, making your curve more smooth but also changing which Hirzebruch surface it’s on!

To what extent is Zhao’s method analogous to the existing proofs of the Roberts conjecture over Q?  I’m not sure; though Zhao, together with the five authors of the two papers I mentioned, spent a week huddling at AIM thinking about this, and they can comment if they want.

I’ll just keep saying what I always say:  if a problem in arithmetic statistics over Q is interesting, there is almost certainly interesting algebraic geometry in the analogous problem over F_q(t), and the algebraic geometry is liable in turn to offer some insights into the original question.

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“I couldn’t really begin to say why, but in the process of working myself up to buying an iPad I…”

- Every Man His Own Shopping Channel | The Dublin Review
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Carlos Slim’s Telmex inches closer to entering Mexico’s television market

** Originally published at World Now: MEXICO CITY -- Carlos Slim's telecommunications empire, Telmex, is poised to get a new shot at realizing its long-held goal of entering Mexico's television market after a regulatory board this week approved rules that may allow the world's richest man to launch a for-pay TV channel. Mexico's television market is almost completely dominated by the duopoly of media giant Televisa and TV Azteca, which together control about 95% of what viewers see and hear on the country's airwaves. On Wednesday, the congressional regulatory watchdog known by its Spanish acronym, Cofetel, sent rules to its...
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Carlos Slim’s Telmex inches closer to entering Mexico’s television market

** Originally published at World Now: MEXICO CITY -- Carlos Slim's telecommunications empire, Telmex, is poised to get a new shot at realizing its long-held goal of entering Mexico's television market after a regulatory board this week approved rules that may allow the world's richest man to launch a for-pay TV channel. Mexico's television market is almost completely dominated by the duopoly of media giant Televisa and TV Azteca, which together control about 95% of what viewers see and hear on the country's airwaves. On Wednesday, the congressional regulatory watchdog known by its Spanish acronym, Cofetel, sent rules to its...
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The Justin Bieber 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove, via Cheap 3D…

The Justin Bieber 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove, via Cheap 3D printers fuel home-printed sex toy “phenomenon” (Dezeen).

Dongiverse, a filesharing site dedicated to printable erotic objects, was launched three years as a joke “to parody the awkward amount of suspiciously phallic objects uploaded daily” to Thingiverse.

Three years on, Dongiverse has just announced plans to relaunch as a commercial venture where designers can sell their products. “We believe that is not so tongue-in-cheek any more, and want to make Dongiverse a real place where artists can upload their designs and put them in the hands of real people,” the site announced last week.

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“This is what Hammond and his company, Narrative Science,…

“This is what Hammond and his company, Narrative Science, do: create fluidly written, micro-targeted news stories from massive amounts of raw data—and do it hundreds of thousands of times, and slightly differently for each reader or listener. The recipient could be a fast-food franchisee seeking to understand what menu item sells best at what moment of the day, at what time of year, even in what weather, so he can optimize point-of-sale strategies. “

Automated Storytelling - Future of StoryTelling

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Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

The man who gave his name to the term “masochism” was anything but wimpy. Born in an Austrian region of eastern Central Europe, cultural historian and author LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH (1836–95) was an advocate for women’s suffrage and Jewish rights; and he courageously shared his sexual predilections with the world via the 1870 autobiographical novella Venus in Furs and other works. The central female character in Venus in Furs was inspired by Fanny Pistor, whom Sacher-Masoch convinced to wear furs while punishing and humiliating him. Sacher-Masoch loved to be whipped, but any form of pain would do: he even encouraged his wives to cheat on him, because he found that form of suffering particularly appealing in its humiliation. Years later, the Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing immortalized the author’s name via his moniker for this particular form of so-called deviant sex. Forget the Velvet Underground song and read Sacher-Masoch himself; by explaining how pain could meld with pleasure, his Venus in Furs elevated sex from the mundane to something profound.

***

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Elmore James, Cal Schenkel, Frank Miller.

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Frank Miller

In comics badass sells and anger can become a comfort zone. FRANK MILLER (born 1957) made himself the only graphic novelist that many people knew, when the stoic pulp and stylish brutality of his 1980s Ronin, Batman and Daredevil comics elevated an overlooked medium to the stature of visceral poetry and visual eloquence valued in crime-novel and noir-film canons. Now the veteran angry young man is mostly noticed for making other people mad. He and his new enemies have a problem separating the direct from the unspecific; everyone but me hated his movie adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, but that was an exploratory flail into un-preconceived B-filmmaking that took many fruitful risks (even if someone else in film’s future may have to make sense of the eventual fruits); on the other hand, Miller’s simplistic screeds against Occupy and caricatures of the Muslim world discard the dimension that always made his work so worth wrestling with. The big-tent paranoia of the Martha Washington dystopias, the very alien values of the Spartans supposedly cradling our modern democracy in 300 (the harshly shaded comic, not the recruiting-poster movie), the macabre cautionary desensitization and humorous overstatement of Sin City (especially its absurdist art-trash movie) — these are Miller’s best medium as a storyteller, as much as the frenetic instinct and intrepid unattractiveness of his serrated, scratched and splattery drafting. He pioneered not the voiceover but the voice-around in comics, delivering a messy 360-degree perspective from multiple first-persons that reveals much; one moment like that resurfaces in the otherwise rancid, racist (yet for the most part stunningly rendered) Holy Terror, inside a female suicide-bomber’s conflicted, strangely not-unsympathetic head. It’s the discomfort zone where Miller belongs, and maybe at some point he’ll take his supremely sure artistry and head back out into the abundant uncertain.

***

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Elmore James, Cal Schenkel.

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“True to pugnacious form, Dimon came out fighting. He took on Paul Singer, the hedge fund manager who…”

“True to pugnacious form, Dimon came out fighting. He took on Paul Singer, the hedge fund manager who has been critical of banks’ opaqueness and complexity, denying that there is anything about JP Morgan’s balance sheet that the public – or the regulators – can’t find out from reading the information it discloses. “You don’t know how aircraft engines work, either!” he shot back at Singer.”

-

Jamie Dimon’s defence of bankers won’t fly | Business | The Guardian

The Macroscope Defence.

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Distillation ca. 1792

Below are two plates picturing distillation equipment and an explanatory (or obfuscatory, depending on your French) section from Annales de Chimie, January 1792. Gadolin was a prominent Finnish chemist and discovered Yttrium which, allegedly, is an element that looks like… continue reading »
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Forgot

to log one more good read, Ben Winters' The Last Policeman, a good recommendation from B. - it is very much the sort of book I most enjoy....
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Forgot

to log one more good read, Ben Winters' The Last Policeman, a good recommendation from B. - it is very much the sort of book I most enjoy....
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Catch-up

I have gotten fatally behind on logging light reading, mostly because quite a bit of it was undistinguished!

I finished the rest of the Inger Ash Wolfe books (psychologically implausible and with serial killers like nothing that has ever walked the earth, but the writing is otherwise appealing); read several crime novels by Julia Spencer-Fleming; Jennifer McMahon's The One I Left Behind, which I liked a good deal in spite of it again having an implausible serial killer at its heart; Alan Russell's Shame, ditto; Michael Prescott's The Shadow Hunter (dreadful); Grant Jerkins's The Ninth Step (not bad); Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy (not my preferred kind of thriller, as it follows too many different characters, but good of its kind); and Robert Crais's Suspect (thin in terms of the mystery plot, but gripping as it concerns the relationship between man and dog in K-9 patrol - really very appealing indeed, and especially recommended to those who like reading books with an animal as one of the main characters).

Also, a book that was pretty much as preposterous as I thought it would be - I do not at all buy the basic account of human motivation, either general or specific to the two main characters, and I dislike the melodramatic tinge - and yet it is nonetheless a gripping read, Matt Fitzgerald's Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run. (Here's how the book's subjects responded to the portrait; thoughtful further comments by Dan Empfield here.)

I still think that if you're only going to read one book about endurance sport and you have at all of an interest in the underlying questions of physiology, the best single book has to be Jack Daniels' Running Formula. I am also very partial to 'Doc' Counsilman's The Science of Swimming - really I am enough of an academic and intellectual in my heart of hearts that though I rot my brain with hundreds of trashy novels every year, I really would always rather read a book of substance than a book of fluff - I particularly dislike popularizations and watered-down versions when there is a high-quality and reasonably accessible straight-from-the-source version.

Spa month is coming to an end. I had two pieces of work I had to finish yesterday and it was actually very satisfying to be sinking my teeth back into a real job; I'm going to have a massive training week this coming week, then fly back to New York the following Monday and ramp things back down a bit while I reacclimate to normal life (there will be some school obligations this semester in spite of the fact that I'm not teaching). Am resolved to have at least a "spa week" a couple times a year even if I cannot always spare a whole month! The crucial thing will be to reconceptualize the first half of January and the first half of June not as times to crank out some massive piece of writing that I don't have vim to complete during a teaching semester but rather as times for rest and recovery; this will entail a fairly dramatic change of attitude, I am sure it is easier said than done, but I really am going to try and make it happen....
Uncategorized

Catch-up

I have gotten fatally behind on logging light reading, mostly because quite a bit of it was undistinguished!

I finished the rest of the Inger Ash Wolfe books (psychologically implausible and with serial killers like nothing that has ever walked the earth, but the writing is otherwise appealing); read several crime novels by Julia Spencer-Fleming; Jennifer McMahon's The One I Left Behind, which I liked a good deal in spite of it again having an implausible serial killer at its heart; Alan Russell's Shame, ditto; Michael Prescott's The Shadow Hunter (dreadful); Grant Jerkins's The Ninth Step (not bad); Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy (not my preferred kind of thriller, as it follows too many different characters, but good of its kind); and Robert Crais's Suspect (thin in terms of the mystery plot, but gripping as it concerns the relationship between man and dog in K-9 patrol - really very appealing indeed, and especially recommended to those who like reading books with an animal as one of the main characters).

Also, a book that was pretty much as preposterous as I thought it would be - I do not at all buy the basic account of human motivation, either general or specific to the two main characters, and I dislike the melodramatic tinge - and yet it is nonetheless a gripping read, Matt Fitzgerald's Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run. (Here's how the book's subjects responded to the portrait; thoughtful further comments by Dan Empfield here.)

I still think that if you're only going to read one book about endurance sport and you have at all of an interest in the underlying questions of physiology, the best single book has to be Jack Daniels' Running Formula. I am also very partial to 'Doc' Counsilman's The Science of Swimming - really I am enough of an academic and intellectual in my heart of hearts that though I rot my brain with hundreds of trashy novels every year, I really would always rather read a book of substance than a book of fluff - I particularly dislike popularizations and watered-down versions when there is a high-quality and reasonably accessible straight-from-the-source version.

Spa month is coming to an end. I had two pieces of work I had to finish yesterday and it was actually very satisfying to be sinking my teeth back into a real job; I'm going to have a massive training week this coming week, then fly back to New York the following Monday and ramp things back down a bit while I reacclimate to normal life (there will be some school obligations this semester in spite of the fact that I'm not teaching). Am resolved to have at least a "spa week" a couple times a year even if I cannot always spare a whole month! The crucial thing will be to reconceptualize the first half of January and the first half of June not as times to crank out some massive piece of writing that I don't have vim to complete during a teaching semester but rather as times for rest and recovery; this will entail a fairly dramatic change of attitude, I am sure it is easier said than done, but I really am going to try and make it happen....
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1000

This is the thousandth post.

I was going to use this space to give you some statistics, maybe make a Wordle, etc., but I couldn’t figure out how to get WordPress to give me the relevant statistics.

So let’s just say I’ve written a lot of stuff on this blog.  No way is the mean post less than 200 words long, so let’s say close to a thousand print pages.  And I’m really, really glad.  I know lots of people think the blog is dead and we’re all to fling aphorisms at each other on Twitter and Facebook instead.  I love aphorism-flinging, but, for me, blogging sits in a kind of perfect sweet spot; “published” enough that I feel someone’s out there reading, informal enough that I don’t mind making mistakes, short enough that I can bang out a post without compromising a workday, long enough that I can shape an argument that’s not just an aphorism.  Writing this blog, and reading other people’s blogs, has enriched my published writing and my mathematics too.  And I think in some small way it’s been useful to others — the blog has been cited at least 4 times on the arXiv!  That’s more than plenty of my papers.

I don’t care if the blog is dead — if you’re on the fence about starting one, I say you should do it.

A few notes:

• My most popular post, by a mile, was my post alerting the community to Mochizuki’s claimed proof of ABC, which was linked to by several big sites like Hacker News.  It’s been viewed over 50,000 times.  The next most popular was a post about a hiring controversy in math that I won’t link to because the matter is long settled to everyone’s satisfaction.   Next was a post sharing an anonymous account of treatment at a halfway house which is believed to be by David Foster Wallace.  In fact, of the 10 most popular posts, 7 are about math, 2 are about David Foster Wallace, and the remaining one is Is There Life After Potty Power? which, based on my search logs and the comments, gets a lot of views from people who, after hundreds of viewing, have developed a romantic attachment to the star of a toilet-training video.
• From this you should get the basic idea — people like the math posts a lot and the literature posts a fair amount.  And nobody cares about the Orioles at all.
• When I was considering starting this blog, I asked David Carlton, who’s been doing it much longer, what the secret was to keeping up a blog and not letting it die out.  ”Low standards,” he told me.  What he meant:  to blog you have to be willing to to write things that are inarticulate, or not fully-thought-through, or which still have pieces missing; otherwise blog entries (like some math papers!) end up languishing, invisible and unfinished, forever.  I think it would be better for math if those messy and partial ideas were more public than they are, and I think one way for this to happen is for more mathematicians to blog.  And to have low standards.

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“Married people who like Prostitutes … these people’s spouses”

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HiLoBooks to publish Cicely Hamilton!

HiLobrow is pleased to announce our online serialization and print publication of Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage. The book — by a women’s rights activist often remembered today for her polemical plays, tracts and treatises — was first published in 1922.

When war breaks out in Europe — modern, aerial war whose tactics include displacing entire populations — British civilization collapses overnight. The ironically named Theodore Savage, an educated and idle civil servant, must learn to survive by his wits in a new Britain… one where science and technology swiftly come to be regarded with superstitious awe and terror.

New installments of Theodore Savage will appear weekly, from March 11 through August 26. In October, HiLobooks will publish a beautiful paperback edition of this title. (Information about this and other HiLoBooks titles here. Cover illustration, above, by Michael Lewy; design by Tony Leone.)

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“Like Colson Whitehead’s Zone One without the zombie camp and idiom, Theodore Savage is a dark, strange, and cruelly contemporary tale of The Ruin and the post-apocalyptic condition that follows,” says Alexis Madrigal in a 2013 blurb for HiLoBooks. “The book makes a spirited argument against science and machines, disputing itself viciously to the last word.”

“Miss Hamilton always writes forcibly, and her present novel deals with the heart shaking effects of the next war. It might, indeed, be used as a tract to convey an awful warning.” — The Spectator (1922)

“A particularly effective and chilling version of a theme that dominates British speculative fiction between the wars.” — Anatomy of Wonder, Neil Barron, ed.

“Hamilton is one of the first — and among the darkest — of those UK novelists whose vision of things was shaped by WWI, which they saw as foretelling the end of civilization.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Clute and Nicholls, eds.

*

Cicely Hamilton (1872–1952) was an Anglo-Irish novelist, dramatist, and campaigner for women’s rights who served during WWI with an ambulance unit and at a military hospital in France. Her plays include Diana of Dobson’s (1908) and How the Vote was Won (1909); her 1909 treatise Marriage as a Trade is a witty criticism of that institution. The dystopian Theodore Savage is her only science fiction novel.

The HiLoBooks paperback edition of Theodore Savage will feature a new Introduction, by comics and design legend Gary Panter. Panter won three Emmy awards for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. His artistic activity includes the science fiction comics Jimbo and Dal Tokyo, painting, prose, music, and light shows. He teaches at School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

***

RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HiLobrow’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, E.M. Forster, Philip Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.

READ: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, serialized between January and April 2012; Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), serialized between March and June 2012; Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, serialized between April and July 2012; H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, serialized between March and August 2012; Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized between May and September 2012; William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized between June and December 2012; and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, serialized between September 2012 and May 2013.

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Coming and Going

We’ve reached a milestone with this, HiLobrow’s three-thousandth post. Reminds us of Nellie Bly, who on this day in 1890 arrived back in New Jersey on a train chartered for her by her employer, Joseph Pulitzer, completing her round-the-world journey in “seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds,” according the tally published in the New York World. The same feat may be accomplished in hours today, but we’re sure Nellie would agree: the world is as big as it ever was. We’ll keep posting; here’s to three thousand more!

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“Daniel Belasco Rogers & Sophia New are artists based…

“Daniel Belasco Rogers & Sophia New are artists based in Berlin. In April 2013 Daniel will have been recording every journey he has ever made for the last 10 years. Wearing a GPS unit Dan records his geographical position, creating a complex mesh of lines from the inherent instabilities of satellite positioning systems and the crisscrossing patterns of everyday life. An exercise in personal data mining, the yellow lines in the images are a short segment of GPS track that are played back in sequence using software written in openFrameworks. For each line Dan removed a thin slither of material, eventually spanning a year’s worth of GPS traces centred around his home in Berlin (the mountain peak) to create mountains, canyons and sheer cliffs eroded by the passing through of places. The whole excavation process took 2 days resulting in a mold for a plaster of Paris relief to be made resulting in a landscape of habit and personal geography.”

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Toby Christian
2009
2 x 11 x 3.5 cm

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beckycloonan: There’s an interview with me in February’s Oprah…

There’s an interview with me in February’s Oprah magazine! XD

(And I was fortunate enough to write it! Haven’t even seen the printed version yet.)

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L’écume des jours coming attractions

The first look of Michel Gondry's film version of Boris Vian's great novel L'éume des jours.  The film will be released in France this April.
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L’écume des jours coming attractions

The first look of Michel Gondry's film version of Boris Vian's great novel L'éume des jours.  The film will be released in France this April.
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Lovers Lane

Table cloth

Vogue

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Shackleton (3)

A weekly digest of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, as told by @EShackleton on Twitter.

The story thus far:

Shackleton and his men have left the wreck of the Endurance and have begun the march across the ice floes to Paulet Island, more than 300 miles to the N-NW. Their course is anything but smooth — the surface is uneven, mushy, and subject to cracking, and some pressure ridges reach more than two stories in the air. Supplies must be kept to a minimum to conserve caloric expenditure, yet they must carry enough to live on for an indeterminate number of months, as well as drag the lifeboats, which will be their only option once the ice pack begins to break up. Shackleton gives the order that all the puppies, and the carpenter’s cat, Mrs. Chippy, must be shot. All animals making the journey must be able to pull not only their own weight, but the weight of the 1-ton sledges. Total miles covered: 2.

***

Group photo, dated: pre-wreck.

Excerpts:

“Cook, I like my tea strong.”

“Cook, I like my tea weak.”

“It was pleasant to know that their minds were untroubled, but I thought the time opportune to mention that the tea would be the same for all hands and that we could be fortunate if two months later we had any tea at all. It occurred to me at the time that the incident had psychological interest. Here were men, their home crushed, the camp pitched on the unstable floes, and their chance of reaching safety apparently remote, calmly attending to the details of existence and giving their attention to such trifles as the strength of a brew of tea.”

Worsley has concerns about the plan. The “setting out immediately for Paulet Island” plan.

“[We should] camp on the nearest flat berg… & await the outward drift of pack & berg to open water.” — Worsley

No. We must away.

The drift of the pack might take us east as well as north, and east means away from land and into the open sea.

Perhaps even more, we must have purpose and activity.

Our interim goal was, of necessity, to wait; which is not a goal at all.

Our goal now, unwanted and forced though it has been, is real: to get home in one piece. All of us.

“I feel sure that it is the right thing to attempt a march…”

No one will find us here. “Here” is not even a place.

No: *we must go to *them.

“The ship is still afloat, with the spurs of the pack driven through her and holding her up.”

The Endurance is now the-Endurance-and-the-ice:

“Found water & ice up to a Ward room stove, fo’c'sle head under water a terrible sight — makes ones stomach ache to see it.” — Orde-Lees

“The decks are burst up by the pressure, the wreckage lies around in dismal confusion, but over all the blue ensign flies still.”

“Human effort is not futile, but man fights against the giant forces of Nature in a spirit of humility.”

“The ice moves majestically, irresistibly.”

What is hoosh?

Some typical Antarctic dry food supplies (pictured are supplies from the Terra Nova Expedition) © RGS-IBG.

Otherwise known as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And tea. #hoosh

Make your own pemmican (and sledging biscuits): [coolantarctica] #recipe

“Out of whose womb came the ice? /And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?”

“The waters are hid as with a stone. / And the face of the deep is frozen.” Job 38:29

That single page, the 23rd Psalm, and the flyleaf with Queen Alexandra’s personal inscription, I tore out of the bible.

Then I laid the book on the ice and walked away.

I have just told the men that we could carry only 2 lbs. each of personal effects on the march.

(Plus one pound each of tobacco. Natch.)

Weighed against survival, every ounce counted for naught.

I also emptied my pockets of their gold sovereigns, and my gold cigarette case.

“I rather grudged the two pounds allowance per man, owing to my keen anxiety to keep weights at a minimum, but some personal belongings could fairly be regarded as indispensable. The jounrey might be a long one, and there was a possibility of a winter in improvised quarters on an inhospitable coast at the other end. A man under such conditions needs something to occupy his thoughts, some tangible memento of his home and people beyond the seas. So sovereigns were thrown away and photographs were kept.”

The men followed my lead and began discarding items in the snow, a pile which grew as the afternoon wore on.

“It was an extraordinary collection of stuff.” — James

“Chronometers, axes, an opthalmoscope, saws, telescopes, socks, lenses, jerseys, chisels, books, stationery, even photographs.” — Lansing

From the collection of the Royal Museums of Greenwich.

Exceptions must be made, of course.

I *ordered Hussey to keep his banjo.

“Holes had been dug in the snow for the reception of private letters and little personal trifles, the Lares and Penates of the members of the Expedition, and into the privacy of these white graves were consigned much of sentimental value and not a little of intrinsic worth.”

We were 28 men and 49 dogs.

We could bring no animal that could not pull its own weight, and in fact much more.

“This afternoon Sallie’s three pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot.”

“Macklin, Crean and the carpenter seem to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.”

“‘The only thing I ever remember him saying … was Shackleton had shot his cat,’ says Norris.”

“We cannot hope to make rapid progress, but each mile counts.”

“I pray God I can manage to get the whole party to civilization.” [Shackleton's private diary]

“Overcast and misty, with occasional falls of snow.”

Here’s how it works: we break a path through a pressure ridge. Then all 7 dog teams drag some of the sledges through.

Then they stop, unharness, go back, & drag the rest of the sledges through. Then back again, for the boats.

Progress is extremely slow and necessarily redundant.

In addition we cannot go straight N-NW because we need to zigzag around the worst ridges and cracks. Some ridges are two stories high!

Despite everything left behind at “Dump Camp,” the sledges weigh more than one ton each, and are strained to the breaking point.

We’re only bringing two of the three boats, something else to which Worsley took exception.

“It was heavy work for dogs and men.”

Killer whales surfaced in the cracks, sizing us up for a snack.

“All are in high hopes, & glad a start has been made from the depressing neighborhood of the Wreck.” — Hurley

Achievement: one mile.

“Although we had gained only one mile in a direct line, the necessary deviations made the distance traveled at least two miles, and the relays brought the distance marched up to six miles. Some of the dog teams had covered at least ten miles.”

BREAKING: a crack! Only 20 feet from camp.

Killer whales prowling and blowing all around us, all night. And underneath.

The ice is quite thin enough that they could break through with their heads and drag us below…

We have to risk it. There is nowhere to go.

“During the night the snow fell heavily, and the floor cloths of the tents got wet through.”

What we need: zero degrees, smooth ice, clear skies.

What we have: 25 degrees. Soft ice. 6 inches of mushy wet snow.

Sinking with every step, sledges sticking, deceptive snow, moving ice.

“But it is wonderful what a dozen men can do with picks and shovels!”

We are again essentially re-tracing our steps every thousand yards, with the whole party stretched out over a half-mile.

Orde-Lees is back and forth on ski, our march liaison officer.

“Do you know, I had no idea how quickly it was possible for a man on ski to get about. In that respect you’d have been quite useful on the trans-continental march; but that’s a thing of the past.”

“That set me wondering why he had not come to this conclusion long before and had not insisted on every man in the expedition being able at least to move on ski at a modest five miles an hour. Amundsen’s rapid journey to the pole was enough to convince one of the value of skis.”
— conversation with Shackleton, as reported by Orde-Lees

Terrible conditions for getting anywhere, today.

“I cannot help feeling sorry for Worsley at the mouth of our tent, for he gets the wet brought in by everybody.” — Macklin

“The rapidity with which one can completely change one’s ideas… and accommodate ourselves to a state of barbarism is wonderful.” — Worsley

“Many look on this as a spree. It is better so.”

Achievement: one mile. (…almost.)

***

Note: Missed the beginning? No worries: @EShackleton’s Twitter adventure will set sail again in 2014, tweeting a month-to-month correspondence during the 100-year anniversary of the Expedition.

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Tereza (banda) – Sandau (Clipe Oficial) (by bandatereza), via…

Tereza (banda) - Sandau (Clipe Oficial) (by bandatereza), via @tomaspinheiro

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Shocking Blocking (44)

In an effort to explicate Jacques Lacan’s distinction between an all-too-human demand (in the act of making which you might gain insight into what you truly desire) and a monstrous, mechanical drive, Slavoj Žižek once pointed to the titular protagonist of RoboCop. Lacan’s own examples of fictional ex-humans embodying relentless drives — e.g., Antigone, who “died” when her brothers killed one another; or the ghost of Hamlet’s father — are highbrow ones. But Žižek, a good postmodernist, prefers lowbrow fare like Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian shoot-’em-up flick, in which, unlike most other unstoppable inhuman horror and sci-fi movie characters, the cyborg Murphy/Robocop (Peter Weller) undergoes “resubjectivation,” becoming gradually less monstrous. How best to convey the pathos and tragedy of what we might call the Ex-Ex-Human Condition? The violence-charged blocking in this cyborg vs. video-salesbot scene, set in a bedroom haunted not only by a vanished wife so truly desired that we can count the hairs on her all-too-human upper lip but by a relentlessly driven talking head, suggests that no matter how alluring it will surely become (and this was a quarter-century ago!), we must resist our own cyborg-ization.

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An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.

THIRTIES (1934–43): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–53): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–63): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–73): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–83): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–93): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Dazed and Confused (1993)
NINETIES (1994–2003): The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): District 9 (2009)

***

READ MORE essays by Joshua Glenn, originally published in: THE BAFFLER | BOSTON GLOBE IDEAS | BRAINIAC | CABINET | FEED | HERMENAUT | HILOBROW | HILOBROW: GENERATIONS | HILOBROW: RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION | HILOBROW: SHOCKING BLOCKING | THE IDLER | IO9 | N+1 | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW | SEMIONAUT | SLATE

Joshua Glenn’s most recent books (2012) are UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).

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Tea With Chris: Tila Ascending

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: My friend Steph recorded an EDM track about Tila Tequila transcending our plane of existence: “YOU USED TO BE ON REALITY TV / BUT NOW YOURE SOMEWHERE BEYOND 3D / DARK SECRETS FROM ILLUMINATI / DONT TRUST THEM IS WHAT YOU TAUGHT ME.” And then a Tila Tequila conspiracist commented on the Youtube page.

As an antidote to every lip-synching-related headline from the past week, some swirling parallelism.

I think illustrated tweets appeal to me in part because of how mediated they are, deliberately rendered spontaneity.

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“Created using the latest Photogrammetric 3D technology…

“Created using the latest Photogrammetric 3D technology and the highest resolution aerial imagery available our models are unparalleled in their accuracy. We have created a single block of imagery that covers over 45sq km of central London at up to 2.5cm/pixel resolution. Within this block we have used over 50,000 tie points and 251 ground control points, this ensures that any measurement taken is within 150mm of its real world location. In fact measurements taken by us have come in at an average tolerance of 40mm compared to a full measured survey. However please do not assume that we are limited to capturing models in London only, we can use the same principles for any UK, European or World Wide city. Our models are supplied geo-referenced and ready to be used within any CAD or GIS platform.”

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Erasmus erased invisiblestories: Every instance of the name…

Erasmus erased

Every instance of the name Erasmus has been burned out of the book, “according to the prescriptions of the Expurgatory Index.” (via biblioguerilla)

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Moon as infographic. sagansense: What Makes Up the MoonIn 1992,…

Moon as infographic.

What Makes Up the Moon
In 1992, the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft made a pass by our planet’s closest companion, the moon. This mosaic of 53 images shows the different composition of rocks on the moon’s surface. Blue and orange colors represent lava flows, bright pink areas are highlands, and light blue colors indicate recent impact material with the youngest craters showing blue rays extending away from them.

Image: NASA/JPL

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