Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Collection of the Worldwide Internet

John McCain doesn't know what he's missing; the internet was particularly good this week.

Is the stress of virtually interacting with your electronic friends catching up to you? Can't stand to hear that another one of your friends became a fan of Michael Phelps? Do you hate knowing when everyone's birthday is?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be worth your while to check out the hottest new thing in social networking, what Kottke calls Fake Following.
This is a little bit genius. One of the new features of FriendFeed (a Twitter-like thingie) is "fake following". That means you can friend someone but you don't see their updates. That way, it appears that you're paying attention to them when you're really not. Just like everyone does all the time in real life to maintain their sanity.
I won't be insulted if you fake follow me; not everyone needs to know that I recently became a fan of Baseball Prospectus.

And remember, besides candy, online networking is the thing young people like the most.

The "Modern Dwelling" exhibit at the MoMa brought back some memories of weird stuff people are doing to the things they put inside their modern dwellings. Here's a really wonderful collection of 30 innovative designs for book-holders; shelves is probably too limiting a word for what's on display here. This one's my favorite, because it tightly focuses the attention of the viewer on the books themselves.

This dude disassembled many of his common household appliances. Very similar concept to what this guy did, but not nearly as creepy. These two examples of people getting to the figurative hearts of their robotic living accessories caught my eye mostly because it reminded me of this blender designed by MIT students which only works if someone is yelling at it.

I don't know the motivations of the people who came up with this, but one of the results of this type of mechanism is that the user needs to interact in a more obviously personal way with the blender. The speed of the blender is directly related to the sound of my voice, a more intimate interaction than is achieved by pushing a button.

We live in a time in which humans interact with a whole bunch of machines, from our computers, to our iDevices, to our eyeglasses, to our pacemakers. I'm glad that there are folks thinking about the ways in which people connect with their machines.

It's not about how our machines interact with us, it's about how we interact with our machines.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some Magazines, Not Surprisingly, Have Many Ads

This post is inspired by two discrete occurrences.

First, I found a great new blog (or, more likely, new to me), called Panopticist, which has a stated goal of taking a critical look at magazines, but which, fortunately, deviates from that goal often enough to examine the pronunciation of a word I'm not sure I'm ready to use on this blog. I'm also a big fan of anyone who's interested in Bentham.

Second, I went to the MoMA this evening, and my two favorite exhibits were the temporary exhibition called the "Modern Dwelling" and--I'm not sure what this says about me--the collection of Esquire covers designed by George Lois. Here's what the MoMA site has to say about him:
From 1962 to 1972, George Lois changed the face of magazine design with his ninety-two covers for Esquire magazine. He stripped the cover down to a graphically concise yet conceptually potent image that ventured beyond the mere illustration of a feature article. Lois exploited the communicative power of the mass-circulated front page to stimulate and provoke the public into debate, pressing Americans to confront controversial issues like racism, feminism, and the Vietnam War. Viewed as a collection, the covers serve as a visual timeline and a window onto the turbulent events of the 1960s. Initially received as jarring and prescient statements of their time, the covers have since become essential to the iconography of American culture.
All that was in the way of introduction, and all this is in the way of the body of my composition (there probably won't be much of a conclusion). The New Yorker this week is one of their special, thick issues, which has writing on the spine; it's the "Style Issue." These special issues are big for advertising purposes, I suppose, so there are four full-page spreads (F-PS's) of advertisements before the reader reaches the table of contents. This is very much out of the ordinary for the NYer, as a normal, non-special, issue has at maximum two F-PS's but more usually just one. This is phenomenal for a magazine, at least compared to the other ones which are scattered throughout my apartment.

Esquire is horrifically bad in this regard, with 21 (!) F-PS's in its September '08 edition, including one foldout, before the reader knows what's in the magazine. Though, to be fair, Esquire has this weird habit of scribbling its content on the cover, complete with page numbers.

Rolling Stone has, in the two issues I could find, on average, 3.5 F-PS's before the T.o.C.

And, lastly, Guitar Player, in the three issues I could find, has, on average, 2.83 F-SP's before the Contents which are listed in table form.

This alone probably shouldn't be the only way for you to measure the quality of a magazine, but it might be important to think about.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Superhero Backlash

It's no secret that our current popular culture deals pretty much primarily in the realm of superheroes. Three of the top ten grossing films of this year tell the stories of traditional comic-book heroes (that Bat-man film which, apparently, did quite well; Robert Downey, Jr.'s second best role this year [Tropic Thunder, by far, was his best]; and, somehow, that Hulk movie which, to my amusement, just pretended that the one from 2003--five years ago!--never happened).

But I think the more important movie money-making development rests at number four on that list, Hancock. Yes, that movie was awful. But it's important because people are ready to see new variations on the superhero theme. Hancock--marketed as drunken, bad-boy superman--started stretching the limits a bit on what our movie superheroes were expected to do. And the superhero spoof genre reached its current zenith with Dr. Horrible. I bring up these examples not because I like linking to previous posts on this here blog, although that is fun, but because of a manuscript I've been reading, titled Captain Freedom. It's being published in February of next year, but I managed to snag an advance copy from one of my lecturers from publishing camp. It's written by blogger/humor writer, G. Xavier Robillard, and it follows the exploits of this professional superhero who saves the world in order to boost his comic book sales, and whose proudest professional accomplishment is setting the all-time record for most foiled bank robberies. The book is cute, but nothing special. (I always have a hard time making the transition from reading books by professional authors to books by other guys: there's a far cry between DFW and McEwan, who I'm currently reading, and pretty much everyone else, including Robillard.)

But here are three distinct products that seem to capitalize on our possible collective superhero fatigue. Have we reached the limit of traditional superheroes? Michael Chabon might cry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've somehow managed to keep this blog updated on a weekdaily basis for the past 5.4 weeks. I'm not sure how that happened, but I thank you for coming along for the ride.

This Ripken-esque streak is going to be broken, though, and soon. I'm going on vacation tomorrow to a magical place. A land of little internet. Florida.

If I somehow collect those little bars at the top of my screen which lets me check my email, I'll post. If not, go outside. Summer is always shorter than it should be.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Measuring Up

I imagine this feeling is somewhat common in graduates of Yeshiva University: I'm kinda wondering how I stack up Out There. Sure, my grades were good in school, but how does that translate? I feel like I need some PECOTA-like system that lets me know what my GPA means in a different school.

It's not even that I'm having like serious self-doubt issues; I'm just curious.

My curiosity was somewhat (in a seriously trivial way) answered by my recent acceptance as a Deadspin commenter. Deadspin, this popular sports blog with around 10,000,000 hits a month, only allows comments by approved commenters. You basically have to try out by posting a comment, and if you're approved the comment is displayed and you have free comment-automony until you are executed, usually provoked by violating one of the three cardinal rules of Deadspin commenting:
First, be funny. Second, do not not be funny. Third, don't be a f'ing idiot.
I think I'm OK with the last rule, but I'm still working on the first two.

But, again, it's nice to know that at least the Commenting Guru thinks I'm not an f'ing idiot.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trying to Make Sense of Gymnastics

There are some athletic competitions which just inherently make sense to me. I like knowing, for example, who is the gold medal winner of the 100m sprint (this year, it's Usain Bolt) because that's a skill I understand: he's the fastest human on Earth. If we line up every person in the world and have a race, Bolt wins. The same concept applies to the World's Strongest Man (Mariusz Pudzianowski) because he's, well, the world's strongest man, and to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (there are five regulating bodies in boxing, which currently have split their champion awards to three different dudes) because he could win a fight with anyone in the world.

But I don't know how to think of gymnastics. It's a skill-set which is so far from being functional in any way that I have a hard time contextualizing it.

Luckily, the FreeDarko guys have been thinking and talking about the same thing (sorta), and since they're way smarter than I am, you should go read what they have to say.

Here, though, is the money quote:
The difference for me is that gymnastics requires such specialized training that the indirectness of usefulness that you talk about here confuses the hell out of me. The idea that someone would train to do leg spins (for the love of Strugg, I hope there's a technical term for these) around a block with hand-holds for a good minute or so, and then pin the outcome of all that training on arbitrary judging that's accepted as corrupt makes no sense to me.

The obvious response to this is that the NBA has arbitrary rules and some corruption in its ranks (donaghy lolz!), so maybe we just accept that ridiculousness because the athletes get paid a lot and enough people watch the games to make it less of an outsider activity. But, really, I think the particulars of a sport like basketball (or baseball, or most of all football) are so ridiculously defined (seriously, I had to explain an onside kick to British people at a Niners game last year and they just laughed at me) that they actually seem more acceptable to us as viewers. So many arbitrary things happen in a basketball play with regards to players respecting and disrespecting rules, aiming for the goals defined by the rules, etc that we can only make sense of it by submitting fully to its skewed logic.

There's a huge difference in something like gymnastics -- at least for a relatively ignorant fan like me -- in that the movements seem more like bizarre revelations of ability rather than a submission to another plane of logic. Like, when I watch the best basketball players, I think "they're good at basketball" -- when I watch the best gymnasts, I think "these dudes are rocks -- why are they jumping on mats and not working as freelance ninjas?" Basically, I think gymnastics rests in this uncanny valley on the graph of sports ridiculousness right between "so basic that it works" (e.g. track and field) and "so complicated that it works."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday Collection of the WorldWide Internet

I'm back with more of the internet. Let's jump right on it.
  • The Spanish basketballers scoff at political correctness. Jason Kidd raises an interesting point: If the American team had pulled off a similar stunt, NBA Commissioner David Stern would have been none too happy, and suspensions or fines would be expected. But, wait a second, there are NBA players on the Spanish team; what's going to happen to them? Nothing, that's what. From the Yahoo! Sports article: "And for his European peers, well, Kidd suggested, 'They won’t do anything to them. It’s a double standard.'”
  • This has been getting lots of internet press lately, and for good reason. The Parallel Universe Film Guide is basically IMDB for movies that never existed. I thought at first that this guy collected fake movies mentioned in other media, like Troy McClure's complete filmography. But it's not. This guy made up all these movies that were never filmed and wrote brief summaries of them. The scary part is how detailed the thing is: he created this whole universe of movies. The fake actors and directors are used consistently throughout the database. So if Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is getting boring for you, you can play Six Degrees of Marshall Fair, who, remember, isn't real.
  • Here's a really tough WorldWide Internet time-waster: How many of the 100 most common English language words can you name in five minutes? It's cool to think about how we use words and which ones are most common.
We'll end off with some youtubery. The first is of Chris Chambers of the Classy Chargers football squad doing cool things, and the second is of (allegedly) Kelly Clarkson and two of her backup singers drunk at Fenway Park singing Sweet Caroline. I watched the video a coupla time and can't for the life of me verify that this is actually Clarkson, but this guy seems very certain.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This is the biggest case of false advertising since The Neverending Story

One of the sad things about reading is that it always ends. Usually that's to be expected, but it's still sad.

I just finished reading Infinite Jest, DFW's 1,100 page novel. The thing took me 2.5 months to read. That's a full quarter of a year, if the year only had ten months. Point is, I spent a long time reading this book, and I spent many hours with these characters. The characters became my friends, but not in the creepy way. (I promise, not in the creepy way.) But one of the really nice things about literature is that I get an inside look into the thoughts of a whole range of characters. In real life, I am privy only to my own thoughts, and I only understand my own motivations and goals. But, for example, at the end of Moby Dick, I felt disappointed that they failed in their quest because I'd been along for the ride, and I invested a whole lot of myself into the reading process. And, similarly, I have always thought of Ishmael as the most relatable character in literature because he interprets his world very much through his own eyes, very much like how I interpret my own world. We may have lost track of the point here, which was: it's sad when literature ends.

The really important French thinker named Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard set out to define postmodernism, and he went about doing that through a pretty cool understanding of language. He wrote this book, upon the request of the Canadian government, called The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. He argues that each community—no matter how small—develops a language to suit its needs. A language community may consist of all speakers of a given language, or all those familiar with a certain dialect. On a smaller scale, academics follow certain rules in the language they utilize, as do doctors, lawyers, movie producers and football coaches. It is this recognition of language as a highly developed game subject to certain unnamed rules, Lyotard argues, that allows for the reexamination of art and literature, for, if the rules are constructed and not natural, they may be safely ignored. What happens to the game when people stop playing by the rules?

This critical inspection of art and literature was propelled forward by important technological advances:
The greatest challenge lay in the fact that photographic and cinematic processes could accomplish better and faster—and with a diffusion a hundred thousand times greater than was possible for pictorial and narrative realism—the task that academism had assigned to realism: protecting consciousness from doubt. Industrial photography and cinema always have the edge over painting and the novel when it is a matter of stabilizing the referent, of ordering it from a point of view that would give it recognizable meaning…since the structures in these images and sequences form a code of communication among them all. So effects of reality—or the phantasms of realism, if you prefer—are multiplied.
It is this stark realization of the limits of their chosen medium which led painters and novelists to “question the rules of the art of painting and narration as learned and received from their predecessors. They soon find that such rules are so many methods of deception, seduction and reassurance that make it impossible to be ‘truthful.’” Those “artists and writers who agree to question the rules of the plastic and narrative arts” are faced with a blank canvass of possibility. Their art may consist of anything and everything, even a urinal. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain may be the most obvious outcome of a lawless art community, and Lyotard, makes use of this example: “The Duchampian readymade does no more than signify, actively and parodically, this continual process of the dispossession of the painter’s craft, and even the artist’s.” What, then, is the purpose of art, if mechanical processes can produce more striking and realistic reproductions and if the rules governing art are recognized for their artifice? Quite simply, “the question of modern aesthetics is not ‘What is beautiful?’ but ‘What is art to be (and what is literature to be)?’”

In the realm of literature, postmodern writers have, in large measure, adopted this question as their own, as they have devoted countless novels to stretching and defining the boundaries of what a novel may be. The meaning of literature can never be divorced from the form it takes, and it is therefore no surprise that writers have examined the limits of the novel through the very medium which they are investigating.

Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Garden of Forking Paths” is formatted in an interesting yet ultimately conventional way. The story is framed as a historical document from the personal collection of Dr. Yu Tsun, a protagonist in the events which caused a delay of nearly two weeks of the Allied offensive against the Serb-Montauban Line during the First World War. Borges breaks free from the constraints of literature entirely through the content of his narrative. Borges, in this story, describes the Labyrinth of Ts’ui Pen. Ts’ui Pen, it is related, constructed both a labyrinth and a book, and it took more than one hundred years after his death for Dr. Stephen Albert to discover that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same. Albert believed, also, that Ts’ui Pen “had intended to construct a labyrinth which was truly infinite.” Until the research of Albert, the book had been regarded as a “contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts,” for, “in the third chapter the hero dies, yet in the fourth he is alive again.”

Albert, before landing on the correct understanding of Ts’ui Pen’s truly infinite book, proposed several theories:
The only way I could surmise was that it be a cyclical, or circular, volume, a volume whose last page would be identical to the first, so that one might go on indefinitely. I also recalled that at the centre of the 1000 Nights, when the queen Scheherazade (through some magical distractedness on the part of the copyist) begins to retell, verbatim, the story of the 1001 Nights, with the risk of returning once again to the night on which she is telling it—and so on, ad infinitum. I also pictured to myself a platonic, hereditary sort of work, passed down from father to son, in which each new individual would add a chapter or with reverent care correct his elders’ pages.
Albert, however, was not satisfied with these theories, for they failed to align, he believed, with a discovered letter fragment written by Ts’ui Pen, which states: “I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.” This letter propelled Albert to the authentic understanding of a novel which is truly infinite:
Almost instantly, I saw it—the garden of forking paths was the chaotic novel; the phrase ‘several futures (not all)’ suggested to me the image of a forking in time, rather than in space…In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts’ui Pen, the character chooses—simultaneously—all of them. He creates, thereby, ‘several futures,’ several times, which themselves proliferate and fork. That is the explanation for the novel’s contradictions. Fang, let us say, has a secret; a stranger knocks at his door; Fang decides to kill him. Naturally, there are various possible outcomes—Fang can kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, they can both live, they can both be killed, and so on. In Ts’ui Pen’s novel, all the outcomes in fact occur; each is the starting point for future bifurcations.
Novels which conform to the rules of their genre—and to the rules of literature, in general—are finite. Borges, in the course of one short story, introduces four variations of an infinite novel. Although he does not compose an infinite novel utilizing any of the options outlined in “The Garden of Forking Paths,” innovative novels—which expand the horizons of what literature may be—form the heart of this work of fiction.

One of the really cool things about Infinite Jest is that you can't really understand the first chapter until you've read the rest of the book. It's a nice little cyclical move that keeps the book alive and almost got me to start rereading the book. Maybe—like Borges’s story—literature doesn't have to end.

A More Thoughtful Post About The Olympics

Probably the best basketball-themed blog in existence is something called FreeDarko. The site's name derives from those first few seasons (from like 2003-'04) of Mr. Darko Milicic's NBA career, when this purportedly supremely talented Serbian basketballer was chained to the bench while his teammates went on to win a championship with basically minimal help from the big white dude named Darko. The founders of the site have created an entirely new aesthetic of basketball--and they've nearly left Darko in the dust, because it turns out that he sucks--and there's just about a weekly post trying to define the true meaning of FreeDarko-ness. They're pretty much the most original basketball thinkers I've ever read, and the cool thing is that their innovation isn't related to basketball strategy or anything having to do with playing the game; it's innovation in the realm of being a fan. In short, they think critically about sports, refusing to just blindly root for laundry.

Here's a thought mentioned briefly by site founder Bethlehem Shoals (not his real name, but a fellow Jew):
I hope no one freaks out and kills me over this, but I can't help but feel like the Olympics are totally 9/11. That's the last time I felt compelled to sit in front of the television as if marathon spectatorship were a meaningful act. A lifestyle, even.
Carter Blanchard, a frequent contributor to the site, elaborates thus in the comments:
A friend of mine has a theory that these are the first Olympics that feel relevant to him, because, he thinks, they're the first in which our athletic/economic/political/moral superiority feels in doubt. I think more accurately it might be the first for which we're aware of vulnerabilities that have always been there, but regardless, I think this somehow ties in with Shoals' 9/11 point. They must be watched. And frogs must be humbled.
As I've mentioned already, it's been a good twelve years since I've watched the Olympics. Do these feel any different to anyone else? My mom, for example, isn't much of a sports-enthuasiast, but even she got mildly pumped up during the creepy girls gymnastics last night. Are we reassuring ourselves through Michael Phelps?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Fever May, In Fact, Be Avian Flu

One of the hazards of spending twelve straight summers (including my first three ever at Camp Nesher) in camps (Moshava is the other, more obvious one) of the sleeping-away variety is that you miss out on the sometimes scary jingoism and fluff-style athletic news pieces which mark the start of the Summer Olympics. The other two hazards I have in mind are 1) going more than a decade without seeing baseball's All-Star Game and 2) thinking that Tisha B'Av everywhere is a solemn and meaningful day, when, in fact, most of the solemnity and meaning are drained of the day if it is spent in O'Hare International Airport for a hour-long stopover which somehow morphes--in 47 minutes intervals--into a four-hour waiting game during which you hungrily watch as many episodes of The Simpons as your poor laptop battery can handle on (in?) it's last day before retirement.

Now, normally, there's scant little I like less than sometimes scary jingoism and fluff-style athletic news pieces. And I still don't have any patience for these things. I keep wanting to turn the volume down on the TV so that I don't have to listen to the announcer describe how sad Misty May-Treanor was when her mom died and how she (Misty) remembers her (Misty's mom) with the tattoo on her shoulder, but how also this loss led her to realize the nature of real loss teaching her to not take so seriously and personally the losses on the beach volleyball court. That type of meaningless commentary doesn't make me want to keep watching. If there's one thing sports doesn't need, it's this Oprahization of competition. I liked watching (the next morning on the internet, of course, because even in Publishing Camp they don't have TV's all over the place) Josh Hamilton knock the living crap out of the ball at the home-run derby because it was freakishly good hitting; his struggles with drugs didn't make that any cooler.

That said, I get a real kick out of watching sports we used to play in 7th grade gym class being played by world-class athletes. I could seriously go for some water-polo or European hand-ball. It's nice background noise for the summer.

And for everyone out there thinking to him-/her-self, "Y'know, with just a few years of training, I could do those flips that all those shortish scary guys are doing on TV," you should read this first.

UPDATE: Just watched some of the women's gymnastics, and, hoo-boy, that stuff is creepy. Those girls are so small.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Learning how to use a new type of computer is fun!

Upon my return to the eastern coast I was greeted by family, some friends, about ninety minutes of Tisha B'Av, and my recently described new lappy. It's nice; I like it. It doesn't do all that much more than my one did, but it's nice that it only turns off when I want it to.

I've spent pretty much all of this day in my room at my parent's house playing around with the computer. I feel like such a blogger. But, unfortunately for all nine regular readers of this blog, I didn't spend my time furiously blogging, but, rather, learning how to use the new OS and transferring my documents, photos, videos, music, etc., to the new compy. And I'm happy to report that, after about eight hours, I've learned how to "right-click" and that about 80% of my music made it through the transfer process. And I think I'm well on my way to developing a serious case of carpel tunnel syndrome. Laptops: the gift that keeps on giving.

I feel OK spending my day learning how to use a new computer; many great things have come about through just such an exercise. I can think of one. But I imagine there must be more out there somewhere. Anyway, the one that I know about is this: Stephen White, the bestselling author of thriller novels, started writing back in the day when home computers were brand new. He started writing just as a way to teach himself how to process words. And he kept at it and was very surprised when he realized that all those pages he wrote looked about as long as a book. And even more surprised when he showed this book-length pile of papers to a few friends who really liked it. And even more surprised when this work got acquired by an editor. And so on until he became famous enough to come visit the Denver Publishing Institute in 2008. So, perhaps, I'll go on to become a world-renowned something in a field I never imagined I had any talent for, and I'll look back on today as the day this all started.

Of course, I didn't spend all day with the computer; I managed to witness the implosion (or at least, the latest iteration of implosion) of the Mets's bullpen. And I emailed some folks in my continuing quest to find someone to pay me money to assist an editor or two. I think it would be a bad move to blog about work, so this'll be the last time I'll mention the job search in this forum. If you feel the desperate need to hear about office life from this source, then you're even more delusional than I realized. But, also, if you really critically need a lighthearted take on life in an American office, I remind you that summer is almost over which means that new TV shows are just around the corner which means that you can get your fill of comedic office hijinks from the funniest show on television which not insignificantly is set in an office. I'm referring, of course, to 30 Rock. I'm excited. And I feel I should mention explicitly the link I just linked to 15 words ago, just because it's a terrifically named fan-site.

Sorry for the posting delay; there'll be more tomorrow, probably on the Olympics.

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Friday Collection of the WorldWide Internet

The founding principle of this blog remained just as true yesterday as it was nearly 20 months ago when this blog was founded. And it continued to be true during the frequent four-month hiatuses. The principle I'm referring to, of course, is: This blog suffers from a serious lack of direction.

But today marks a hesitant baby-step towards a modicum of internal structuring. For today witnesses the beginning of a new feature at TDS. And it's the first ever recurring feature at TDS. I proudly present the inaugural Friday Collection of the WorldWide Internet. Every Friday that this blog, the internet, and the universe exist, you'll receive a smattering of the things that I found interesting from the week that was. Most of these things will be collected from either or because they most consistently deliver the goods. You should probably just read those sites instead of mine. And judging by their daily hits, you probably are doing that already. But only here, at TDS, will you be able to find my pithy remarks on the stuff I find cool. Sorry, joseph, for the blue, underlined words.

Let's get right to it.
  • A kid I went to high-school with is a big NY Giants (American Football) fan, was planning a trip to Nicaragua, and decided to search out the Patriots Super Bowl Champions (they lost) paraphernalia which was sent to Central America to clothe the naked. He found one. And wrote about it for the Boston Herald. Which was reported by Deadspin. I'm not at all surprised by this: he had one of the best jump-shots in the Yeshiva League. Speaking of bitter Boston sports memories, I have a pennant at home proclaiming the Red Sox to be the 1986 World Series Champs, which they, famously, were not. I didn't have to go so far to get that, but I did have to spend time in Boston.
  • My favorite of the hundreds of reports being filed by American reporters on the utter weird- and gross-ness of China.
  • Thorstein Veblen wrote this awesome book in 1899 called The Theory of the Leisure Class. He talks about how in cities, where residents are surrounded by strangers, objects which communicate economic and social stature grow in importance. He calls this conspicuous consumption. Here's the best example I've ever seen of that.
  • This article is nothing so special, but, my God, look at the comments. I never knew there were that many possible donut puns.
  • Didn't Ennismore do this for a color-war breakout once?
  • I'm sick of Favre already--SportsCenter this morning devoted the opening twenty minutes of their hour to only Favre--so it's good that the NY media tends to be a laid-back bunch.
That's enough for now, I believe.

One last FYI tidbit--I'm leaving Denver on Sunday after having a raucously good time. This may affect my blogging, since I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing with myself come Monday morning. If I find gainful employment, there's a chance I won't be able to continue the every-weekday blogging schedule. But if I remain unemployed for a bit, I might accelerate the pace. But I might pick up some other hobbies--like origami--which will take me away from TDS. In short, don't be surprised if there are a whole bunch more origami-themed posts coming your way.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Yo. Science. What is it all about? Techmology. What is that all about? Is it good or is it whack?

Here's a thoroughly modern conundrum:

My three-year old Toshiba Satellite lap-top computer is just about at the limits of its functionality. It keeps overheating and turning off when I don't want it to. (I have taken to propping the thing up with my fairly new copy of Editors on Editing, and that seems to cool it down just enough to stay on so long as I don't have more than two programs running concurrently.) Windows fails to initiate properly at least half the time, bringing me to a scary blue screen, which asks me if I want to retry loading Windows normally or try loading with the last known configuration that worked. All video screens in Internet Explorer for some reason turn green and fail to show the images that should go along with the sounds which I can hear. I use Firefox so this isn't a big deal, but it's annoying for things like Netflix's streaming content which only works in IE. And the wireless doesn't work in most of the places where I live. In short, it's time to get a new compy.

Now here's where the thoroughly modern conundrum comes into play. I decided to buy one of those new-fangled Mac-style computers. They're so white and sleek, and owning one will make me just as cool and different and edgy as all the other dozens of millions of young folks who own one. And, to boot, they have a deal now where they offer $300 off an iPod just for buying a compy. This seems like a pretty good deal, but, from reading the internet, I know that Apple is rolling out their new line of products within like six weeks. And they're going to be the most bitchingly cool computers in the OC. Seriously. The new lappies are going to rock: There's going to be Macbook Touches, and aluminum casings, and new iPod touches, and lots of other cool stuff. Never before in the history of the universe (at least, that I am aware of off the top of my head) has technology moved so fast that people'd be worried about things like buying a product like a month before an improved one came out, and, also, without the worldwide internet, people'd have no way of knowing that new stuff will be released. There's a crap-load of Apple Rumors websites out there which do things like read the company's security updates combing for hints of something new.

As for me, I really wanted a new iPod, and can't really tolerate another six weeks of my current compy situation until the new stuff comes out, so I ordered the current model. So I'll have at least a month of being technologically up-to-date before all my stuff becomes old.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My night at Coors

I've been in Denver for about 3.5 weeks now, with only three non-sabbath days to go. I haven't been yet to the Rockies (the mountainous kind) because all my fellow publishing students seem to have developed a habit of taking those trips on Saturday mornings. I figured, as a fairly decent substitute, I could go see the Rockies (the baseball kind). So last night, with 24 other baseball-tolerating aspiring publishers I did just that. This was my sixth ballpark, after, in chronological order, Shea and Yankee Stadia, Fenway Park, what is now called the Rogers Centre (i.e., the one in Toronto), and Dodger Stadium. But Coors Field was my first ballpark named after a beer; not surprisingly, the beer isn't any cheaper there.

The game itself was pretty dreary, which may have been expected in a contest between a home team eleven games under .500 (and after Monday's defeat, make that twelve) and a visiting squad which ranks as the worst in baseball (the DC Nationals). The stadium witnessed its loudest moment when the club, using the jumbo-tron, welcomed the DU Publishing Institute. Section 207 rocked to the sound of our infamous "We Love Books" cheer. The only other reason the crowd worked itself up was to participate in The Wave. The weird sporting event thing and not the peer-pressure book, that is. Like so:

The Colorado Wave wasn't as good as the one in the video, but, to be fair, Jerseyans are known for their ability to stand and sit in an organized manner. Although, to be fair about this also, we missed the Rockies's first three runs (out of four) because we were doing car bombs. It looked on TV like the crowd was excited about that, but it was kinda hard to tell at that point.

The ballyard itself it pretty beautiful. Relatively comfy seats, wonderful sight-lines, and the Rocky Mountains peek up over the left-field foul pole. It always strikes me as nice that most ballgames begin in daylight and conclude after darkness has hit. Bob Costas would make a big deal about how this represents the importance of a boy's game being played by men, with the love of the game being preserved with a child-like enthuasiasm for this pasttime of the nation. But he's kind of an idiot. I just think it's nice to be able to watch the sunset during like pitching changes or whatever.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weird Childhood Histories, Part 2

Like many folks who earned their college degrees in the field of the literature of England (i.e., English Literature), I have a somewhat strained relationship with mathematics. This, however, was not always the case. This may seem obvious, but I was always good at math that made sense to me, which means that I did A-OK through like ninth-grade geometry, after which point things got a little bit fuzzy. Luckily, the SAT doesn't test on anything past the math I was comfortable with, leading to my scoring of an 800 on the math section of the exam, while earning like a C+ in pre-Calculus or whatever my eleventh-grade math class was called. That was kinda fun, because it made all my classmates who were actually talented mathletes jealous, because they scored something like 790. I still don't know how I pulled it off.

I was never able to articulate what changed, math-wise, until I read Moneyball. This book is seriously awesome, partially because of a train of thought attributed to Bill James, the smartest baseball thinker who ever lived:
The statistics were not merely inadequate; they lied. And the lies they told led the people who ran major league baseball teams to misjudge their players, and mismanage their games. James later reduced his complaint to a sentence: fielding statistics made sense only as numbers, not as language. Language, not numbers, were what interested him. Words, and the meaning they were designed to convey. "When the numbers acquire the significance of language," he later wrote, "they acquire the power to do all of the things which language can do: to become fiction and drama and poetry....And it is not just baseball that these numbers, through a fractured mirror, describe. It is character. It is psychology, it is history, it is power, it is grace, glory, consistency, sacrifice, courage, it is success and failure, it is frustration and bad luck, it is ambition, it is overreaching, it is discipline. And it is victory and defeat, which is all that the idiot sub-conscious really understands."
James said what I started to understand about myself way back in like tenth grade: numbers are interesting only if they tell the truth, if they tell a story. That's why I was wholly uninterested in my stats class of eighteen months ago: knowing the probability of drawing a blue marble from an urn is a parlor trick, which doesn't reveal the truth about anything. Knowing which players really helped a baseball team succeed isn't necessarily of life-changing significance, but the point is that they tell the truth about something. And knowing what leads to success is somewhat of a big deal in a multi-billion dollar industry. At least to the people running that industry.

I had a similar Moneyball-type experience last week. We had the director of online marketing for Random House come present the type of stuff that he thinks about on a day-to-day basis. Some of it was trying to figure out where publishing is heading, and how authors are going to deliver their content to readers, the only two indispensable components of the book-making process. But he also took us on a tour of what the internet (in this case, mostly Google) allows you to learn about marketing. The real trouble with traditional marketing is that no one has any idea if the damned thing worked. I put an ad in the NYT, and it is impossible for me to know how sales were affected by that one ad. Did someone decide to buy, let's say, this book because of the ad in the paper, or did they hear about on NPR, or did their friend recommend it to them, or was it some combination of all of that and more? The effectiveness of a print ad is meaningless because it can't be measured with any type of accuracy. Companies can be throwing away money with unsuccessful ads and they'll have no way of knowing.

Compare that situation with what's possible on the worldwide internet. In this magical place you can see exactly how many people clicked on your targeted Google word-search ad, how long they stayed on your website, how many products they purchased, and a whole lot more. You can submit multiple ad wordings for the same product, and Google will automatically use the ones which prove to be most effective in getting the interwebular traveler to click on the link. I'm not all that fascinated by marketing, but this type of thing, for a change, tells the truth about the real world. You can measure things based on reality, based on how people actually behave. I think that's pretty powerful. These numbers tell a story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

This seems appropriate after a week of Marketing classes

From, again, The Onion:

World's Worst Person Decides To Go Into Marketing
'I'm Thinking...Marketing,' Says Horrible, Horrible Man

NEW YORK—Twenty-three-year-old Louis Deenan, undeniably the most detestable, loathsome individual ever to walk the earth, willfully decided Monday to devote his miserable life and all of its awful ambitions to the field of marketing. "I think it's the career path that will best utilize my networking skills and my ability to think outside the box," said Deenan, whose smug, gloating tone and shit-eating smile just make you want to punch his goddamn teeth in. "So I'm definitely thinking marketing. Either that, or PR." Deenan's mother refused to comment on why she didn't abort the despicable pile of human excrement when she had the chance.