Friday, May 28, 2010

Artest's Meandering Interview

I'm honestly not sure which moment of last night's 2010 Western Conference Final was more exciting: Richardson's bank three on the run, Artest's game-winning layup, or Craig Sager's attempt to talk to Artest after the game. Here's video evidence of the last one of those:

Definitely my favorite part of the interview is when Artest attempts to justify an ill-advised three-pointer taken late in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers up three, and 21 on the shot clock:

"I hit shots before."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

Here's a bonus paragraph on a Tuesday night, just because. Kelly Dwyer on Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals:

Once again, aggression was the key, and I haven't the foggiest as to why the Magic couldn't come through with this sort of effort, this sort of interest level, on Saturday night. All it takes is a good screen and [Jameer] Nelson rounding the corner with any sort of purpose, and you can put the defense — any defense — on its heels.

No matter how great the Boston attack is on that end, this game is well over 100 years old, and nobody has found an answer for having to briefly guard a 5-on-4 attack (after the screen and roll registers one defender useless) with a team's best shooter and passer and driver in control of the ball. It's why teams still run this thing. The stuff works. 

I'm still, it would seem, in a pick and roll mood.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

From Julia Ioffe's article "Roulette Russian," in the the May 17, 2010 edition of The New Yorker, about Chatroulette founder Andrey Ternovskiy:

The best way to talk to Ternovskiy is through some kind of digital intermediary. Shy and evasive in person, he fills with a wry swagger when he is just a stream of text. "They have no business no money blablablabla," he typed to me one afternoon, feigning phlegmatic unconcern with the financial woes of an advertiser he'd been negotiating with--his only one. Like much of his generation, Ternovskiy has an online persona far more developed than his real one.

This is your brain on Internet

Here's how I normally read things on the internet: several tabs, usually between four and eight, worth of Firefox are open, two of which--Gmail and Twitter--provide automatic updates when I receive an email, chat, or tweet. Music or a podcast is usually playing, controlled both via my MacBook's F7-F9 buttons and a series of virtual buttons located on the bottom of my Firefox window via an add-on called FoxyTunes. (If my iTunes is not active, this most likely means I'm sitting in front of a TV or watching Hulu or Netflix or whatever on my additional monitor.) I do most of my reading within Google Reader, where I can see the other dozens of unread posts and feeds waiting for me. In short, I'm rarely focused on reading one thing at any given time. And, of course, the content of the reading itself is different--hyperlinks mean that nothing is self-contained.

I'm not sure this a good thing.

Wired has just published an excerpt from Nicolas Carr's The Shallows, in which the author examines the effect of exactly this type of multitasking on the human brain. After detailing the requisite MRI scanning differences between regular internet users and infrequent internet users--suggesting that technology usage changes, in real and measurable ways, the very wiring of human brains--Carr says this:

Research was painting a fuller, very different picture of the cognitive effects of hypertext. Navigating linked documents, it turned out, entails a lot of mental calisthenics--evaluating hyperlinks, deciding whether to click, adjusting to different formats--that are extraneous to the process of reading. Because it disrupts concentration, such activity weakens comprehension.


The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. There's the problem of hypertext and the many different kinds of media coming at us simultaneously. There's also the fact that numerous studies--including one that tracked eye movement, one that surveyed people, and even one that examined the habits displayed by users of two academic databases--show that we start to read faster and less thoroughly as soon as we go online. 

And most interesting of all:

When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means that our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we're not at a computer. We're exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.

We're not looking for quality content so much as constant content. (From this perspective, it sorta makes sense why people don't want to pay for content on the internet.) I'm not sure how helpful it is to ask whether new realities of this type are good or bad, but shouldn't we try to pay attention to things? In addition to keeping these reading and comprehension muscles in shape for situations in which we really need them, I'd like to think, as someone whose writing is probably never read through any medium other than the internet, that people are doing more than just skimming.

Now, I'm not planning on changing the majority of my internet reading habits because a large portion of the reading I do is meant to be skimming. I skim/read probably more than one-hundred posts and articles per day for my blogging gigs, where I'm mostly just searching and sifting for good stuff to write about. But I am going to try to make an effort to pay attention to the internet writers who have earned my attention through their consistent excellence: the Joe Posnanskis, the Josh Wilkers, the Rob Walkers, the Ariels. Both because they deserve it and because I want to be present in the things that I do. Eat while you're eating, and all that.

(This is maybe the main benefit of printed books at this stage of history--the reading experience itself is different because the medium is more focused. Does that mean that only content of a high quality--content that deserves to be read, not skimmed--should be printed? Possibly. It's definitely something for traditional media companies to consider.)

But yeah, let's try to pay attention to what we're reading. Some of it, at least, is worthy of our attention.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writing and Thinking, Picking and Rolling

This post is probably ill-advised. It's getting quite late here on the eastern coast of the United States, and I do have work in the morning. But sometimes, man, you just gotta write. I've made a deal with myself--I'm going to forgo any and all proofreading so, you know, watch out for that.

I've been in a moderately introspective mood over the last few weeks, mostly because of David Lipsky newly published book Although of course you end up becoming yourself.... The book is basically a transcript of five days of interviews Lipsky conducted with DFW while he (DFW) toured to promote Infinite Jest. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, because I like reading DFW and this book is ~300 pages of DFW talking. Perhaps the most recurring of the various topics of conversation help between interviewer and interviewee consists of Wallace thinking about he's dealing with success of his giant novel. Does he write because he likes writing? Or because he likes the attention and accolades? And if it's the attention and the accolades, how does that affect his writing?

I'll let you read AOCYEBY to see how Wallace answers these questions, but the book has made me think about this type of question, especially as I've begun writing way more often than really I've ever previously written, writing which is being published for a publication with a higher-profile than the publications I normally write for (meaning: this one). I'm going to be honest here: I don't entirely know the answer. I really like writing, but I'm not sure why, precisely. Let's pretend, for a moment, that writing can ever be done without an intended audience held in the mind of the author, even if the intended audience turns out to be the author himself. Would I still write? I did publish two posts here on this blog before I told anyone that this thing existed. They're bad and they're weird, both because I was just trying to learn how this Blogger service worked and because I wasn't writing for anyone. And while I truly believe that maybe the main benefit of writing is that it forces the writer to think more clearly and in a more organized manner about the topic at hand, the point still seems to be that someone else should read what I write. It's a really tough question.

Here's another: if you've been reading this blog since December, you might remember a post I've published in two consecutive years now, in which I list the various cities I've visited, the media I've read/watched, and the events I've attended. I'll admit that I've asked myself at times whether, let's say, I'm reading a book for myself or for the list. (Usually this happens about 75% of the way through a book I'm not enjoying.) I also wonder how the publication of such a list affects my choice of what to read in a given year.

I don't have answers to these questions. It's really hard to know why I do things, to know what I really like. I'm about as certain as I can be, though, that I really like playing basketball. And it's nights like tonight that help crystallize why. In this case, I participated in the pick and roll just about as well as I ever have. The pick and roll is a somewhat technical term for a nearly indefensible strategy in all levels of basketball. It is the primary offense tactic in professional basketball, but the principles in play are remarkably consistent across all skill levels. Now that I think about it, tactic is probably a more descriptive word than strategy here. Despite its simplicity, I find that I'm having a hard time explaining the pick and roll using words, and the various diagrams available on the internet don't seem particularly helpful. But, luckily, I've spent a decent chunk of my night watching picks and rolls on YouTube, and here is a good crash course in how this tactic works:

I played the Amare role tonight in the pickup game held twice a week in a synagogue basement, if only Amare couldn't jump, wasn't agile, and couldn't finish around the rim (my hands are moderately soft). It was just a real pleasure to run this offense with someone of talent, knowing that no matter what the defense decided to do, we'd have a good chance to score for all the reasons on display in the above video. It's something of a spiritual connection, knowing that if I spin left here, the other guy will find a way to get me the ball in a good position to score, being able to anticipate what your teammate will do. I can't even imagine how Nash-Amare or Stockton-Malone feel. I think this connection has a whole lot to do with what DFW described in the first footnote of his "Federer as Religious Experience" piece, in which he delineates the benefits and downsides of having a body. But now it's really late, and you should read that article in its entirety anyway.

I'm not sure about a lot of things. But I am sure about the pick and roll.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

The great Joe Posnanski on the iPad:

Now, we have become conditioned to technology, many of us, and so the list might not impress you. You can do most, maybe even all, these things on the iPhone or on your mobile device. Certainly on your computer. Most of the iPad reviews I read talk a lot about what the iPad does not do — play Flash, have a camera, run multiple apps at once and so on. All true.

But I’m not a technology writer. I’m just a guy who grew up in the 1970s. And I like to look at it another way — we’re living in the Jetsons. I can WATCH ANY BASEBALL GAME on this little folder-sized television that I carry around with me? And read books on it (and it’s a much better reading experience than the computer — night and day better). And listen to music on it? And watch movies? And send letters to people that reaches them instantly? And get letters back from the in return? And do my work on it? And shop on it? And play games on it? And so on and so on and so on and every single day it gets better because someone invents some new app that pushes its limits.


I’m not saying you want an iPad or need one (or any of the upcoming tablets) — I don’t get commission. I’m just saying, what’s the big deal? It’s a computer and television and radio and newspaper and book and magazine and game console and Internet the size of a piece of paper and the width of a Mitch Albom book. It’s freaking amazing, that’s the big deal.

I want one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LeBron's Changing Narrative

Full disclosure: I did not watch a second of tonight's NBA playoff contest in which the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final margin of 120-88. I had some writing to do, we don't have cable in my apartment (apparently we're one of the few remaining holdouts in this country), and I really didn't feel like putting shoes back on to go outside to find a cable-enabled TV. But just because I didn't see any part of this game doesn't mean I can't write about it. That's what blogs are for.

I find that lately I've been equally interested in the narrative of sports as I am in the suspense and the action. And the narrative aspect of this particular game comes across plenty clear from the box score:

LeBron James: 42 minutes, 3-14 FG, 0-4 3FG, 9-12 FT, 15 Points, -22 +/-. As mentioned before, his team lost by 32 points in a fairly crucial playoff game.

Now, this series isn't over. Cleveland might very well win these next two games before proceeding to stomp their way to a championship. LeBron has fallen short in the playoffs before. And his team will probably fall short again. After all, everyone besides for Jordan has lost. Yet this loss feels different. This isn't part of the chosen-one narrative. This shouldn't be part of the story. In the past, a LeBron loss was due, narratively, to his poor teammates. And while there's still no second-banana who compares to a Pippen or a Pau, the question is whether this situation will improve. The supporting cast in Cleveland isn't getting any better. The Knicks, even with LeBron and a max-contract friend, will be missing at least three key rotation parts. What does this guy need to do to win a championship?

I find it interesting that NBA Off-Season's brainworks chalks up tonight's loss more to a lack of motivation than to a lack of talent or skill:

Do you think there’s any part of LeBron that’s rolling over?  Do you think there’s any part of LeBron that’s saying, “I don’t want a fight.”  Fighting and winning might mean Cleveland gets knocked off by the Magic (again), and maybe that makes Bron’s life more difficult?

Because, again, failure due to lack of skill just isn't part of the narrative for the most talented basketball player in the world. If the Cavs go on to lose this series, when LeBron wins a title--and I'm still just about certain that he will--we'll look at that victory as the one which removed the monkey from his back. Have we reached the point where these losses no longer fit in the emerging talent learns his lessons by going again the veteran team storyline? How has it come to this?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2666's The Part About the Crimes and Literary Realism

I haven't posted much about it recently, but I just last week completed Roberto Bolano's 2666, participating in the group read hosted by I've avoided writing much about the book since January mostly because, after reading the superb recaps and analyses on that site, I felt like I didn't have much to add. Additionally, to be honest, I found the group read scheduling a little disorienting. It's been a little while since my college days concluded and I really haven't read on someone else's schedule since then. I don't know if I could have successfully completed 2666 (and I'm not sure that I even would have embarked upon this journey) without the support and scheduling of the group, but the read felt choppy at times. If I finished a section on a Wednesday, I would usually wait until Monday to begin the next week's portion. This type of scheduling may be better suited for a repeat reading. Something to think about.

But, now that I've completed the book, I'd like to think for a moment on the effect it had on me, the reader. I'm thinking specifically of The Part About the Crimes, the most famous, longest section, clocking in at nearly 300 pages. This part is a weaving narrative of many minor and major characters, but one of the recurring themes is a spate of crimes committed in the Mexican town of Santa Teresa throughout the mid-'90s. The crimes in question are very specific: young women are being raped and murdered. Around 200 of them. And they're described in graphic detail. Here's a representative paragraph:
In the middle of November, Andrea Pasheco Martinez, thirteen, was kidnapped on her way out of Vocational School 16. Although the street was far from deserted, there were no witnesses, except for two if Andrea's classmates who saw her head toward a black car, probably a Peregrino or a Spirit, where a person in sunglasses was waiting for her. There may have been other people in the car, but Andrea's classmates didn't get a look at them, partly because the car windows were tinted. That afternoon Andrea didn't come home and her parents filed a police report a few hours later, after they had called some of her friends. The city police and the judicial police took charge of the case. When she was found, two days later, her body showed unmistakable signs of strangulation, with a fracture of the hyoid bone. She had been anally and vaginally raped. There was tumefaction of the wrists, as if they had been bound. Both ankles presented lacerations, by which it was deduced that her feet had also been tied.
First, notice the writing style here. It bears the unmistakable mark of a police report, with the straightforward summary of violence. But more important than the content of this one paragraph is the cumulative effect of reading dozens of such reports. Even though other sections of the novel describe more quantitative deaths, the quality of the descriptions isn't nearly as graphic. The horrific murders of The Part About Archimboldi doesn't register in the same way as the murders of the women in Santa Teresa.

This is a tough, tough section to read. And it's intentionally written this way. James Wood speaks often about the necessary balance of realism and readability in fiction. The Part About the Crimes strained the limits of what I could read. But to achieve the realism needed for this section, Bolano had to push some boundaries here. Because, after all, he's describing the brutal real-life murders of Ciudad Juarez. This is supposed to hurt. It's the only way the author can get across the numbing repetition of these violent crimes. And, you know what, this section wouldn't have had the same effect if this was written any other way.