Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Random Recommendation: Adam Carolla's Podcast

The most entertaining thing in the world right now is Adam Carolla's podcast. Until about two weeks ago, I was not at all a fan of Carolla. But after reading a wave of rave reviews and learning that his podcast became the most downloaded in history in about a week, I decided to give it a shot. And it turns out that he's really funny. And that's important because that's the whole show--him, talking to his friends from his living room. There's nothing fancy: the audio quality is awful a bunch of the time, there seems to be no planning at all that goes into each episode, and I've never heard of at least half of the guests. But Carolla is a fantastic interviewer, he's opinionated, and he talks about funny things. The podcast is not censored in any way, which means it might not be for everyone, but it's free, it's daily, and I like listening to it while I work. It's way better than just about anything I've ever heard on the radio. I recommend it, randomly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quality Control

Hey, remember when I used to blog somewhat regularly? That was awesome.

I've been thinking about this topic for a few weeks, ever since that day I spent without internet, forced to read different articles I had saved to my hard drive for use during those college classes inconveniently located in regions lacking wi-fi. But Rock Band, the start of baseball season, and some ancient Jewish rituals have distracted me from writing inside this blog.

Oh yes, the topic: how do people recognize quality?

It's not a new question, and even the article which spurred this thinking isn't new; in September of 2007, Gene Weingarten and a phalanx of Washington Post reporters placed Joshua Bell--if not the LeBron James of the violin, then at least the Chris Paul of it, or so the article implies--in a Washington Metro station and told him to play three widely-acknowledged works of violining genius (stuff like, "Chaconne" from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor--y'know violining genius). The resulting article garnered a whole bunch of attention, and with good reason: it's an excellent thought experiment, well-executed, and a really fun read. I'll let you read the article to find out if commuters would stop during rush-hour to hear a world-class musical performance for free (short answer: with few exceptions, they did not), but I think this claim of Mark Leithauser, a senior curator at the National Gallery, is worth sharing here:

Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting. And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'

So is there any situation in which people can assess art taken out of context?

I'm fairly certain that I would not like certain books or websites (that I do like) if they were written by someone other than a person I already know I like. And I think that makes sense in a way; when I say that I like Don DeLillo I don't mean his personality, his character, or his actions--I like to read the things that he writes. Which is to say, once a piece of writing (or acting, or music, etc.) meets a certain basic level of quality, maybe I just like writers or actors or musicians that I like, and it doesn't really matter that there may be other, better writers out there that I don't like, because I don't know about them. I'm not sure I like the best writer--I like the one that I like.

Because I wonder how these things can even be measured. Even sports--one of the most exhaustively measured pursuits in human history--maybe aren't as clear cut as we may think. Michael Jordan, for example, is completely untouchable. He has all the accolades you could imagine. But wouldn't his reputation be even a little bit diminished if he got called for that offensive foul on Russell in 1998?

Jordan, if this foul was called, goes down in history not as a guy who was invincible, but as someone who lost in his prime, just this once. This completely subjective officiating call makes a huge difference in how Jordan is perceived.

I guess the point is to like what you like. If you like Tom Waits because he sounds like a cross between Harry Chapin and Cookie Monster, he wrote what would become the theme song to The Wire, and because you wonder how he ever worked up the nerve to go into signing with a voice like that, then keep on liking him. Even if your roommates complain that the sound coming out of your iPod isn't technically music and doesn't taste like apples.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Umbrellas are the new ponchos

Because it's a rainy Friday morning; because my roommate recently purchased a new umbrella; I've been thinking about umbrellas. And, more specifically, the umbrella problem. I'll let Susan Orlean explain:

And still umbrellas are seriously flawed. They drip, they flip inside out, they snap in half, they poke bystanders in the eye. Their usable life span is sometimes as short as one big downpour, and then they transmogrify into unwieldy non-recyclable trash. In 2006, the design magazine I.D., the Web site Treehugger, and the Sustainable Style Foundation sponsored a contest to address what they termed “the umbrella problem,” which encompassed both the poor performance of umbrellas and the issue of their afterlife. In announcing the contest, I.D.’s editor-in-chief, Julie Lasky, noted, “Umbrellas suffer from design flaws that often lead to their premature and messy deaths and unwelcome burials in landfills.” The finalists in the better-umbrella category were the Pollinate Umbrella (made of recycled materials and entirely biodegradable); the Penta, which collects rain so that it can be used later to water garden plants; and the Crayella (the eventual winner), which featured easy-to-repair ribs. (According to Crayella’s designers, “Individuals can create micro-businesses that repair Crayellas quickly on the street, like offering a shoe-shine, and collect and repair discarded Crayellas for resale.”) The second category called for “a couture garment constructed from former umbrellas.” The winning entry was an evening gown made of salvaged umbrella canopies, with a fauxcorset made of discarded umbrella ribs, designed by the aptly named Rainer Wolter.

Orlean's article focuses on an inventor named Steve Hollinger who, working on his own sewing machine, created this areodynamic umbrella (to combat Wind, Destroyer of Umbrellas) with extended front- and back-sides so that water doesn't drop on your shoes.

It looks kinda like this SENZ Windproof umbrella from Totes. And it costs only $55. With a lifetime warranty. Seems like a good deal. The future is here.

Of course, if you're the kind of person who is OK fighting with Wind and owns waterproof shoes, you might want to consider this Sprout Umbrella, which has the benefit of kicking ass in the looks and the ass-kicking department.