Friday, December 28, 2007

Black Holes and Coffee Nebulae

Why Starbucks actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses. - By Taylor Clark - Slate Magazine:

So now that we know Starbucks isn't slaughtering mom and pop, the thorny question remains: Why is Starbucks amplifying their business? It's actually pretty simple. In contrast to so-called 'downtown killers' like Home Depot or Wal-Mart, Starbucks doesn't enjoy the kinds of competitive advantages that cut down its local rivals' sales. Look at Wal-Mart. It offers lower prices and a wider array of goods than its small-town rivals, so it acts like a black hole on local consumers, sucking in virtually all of their business. Starbucks, on the other hand, is often more expensive than the local coffeehouse, and it offers a very limited menu; you'll never see discounts or punch cards at Starbucks, nor will you see unique, localized fare (or—let's be honest—fare that doesn't make your tongue feel like it's dying). In other words, a new Starbucks doesn't prevent customers from visiting independents in the same way Wal-Mart does—especially since coffee addicts need a fix every day, yet they don't always need to hit the same place for it. When Starbucks opens a store next to a mom and pop, it creates a sort of coffee nexus where people can go whenever they think 'coffee.' Local consumers might have a formative experience with a Java Chip Frappuccino, but chances are they'll branch out to the cheaper, less crowded, and often higher-quality independent cafe later on. So when Starbucks blitzed Omaha with six new stores in 2002, for instance, business at all coffeehouses in town immediately went up as much as 25 percent.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Dumbest Reading of Edward Said Ever

The Bertrand Russell of Islam - December 12, 2007 - The New York Sun:

Mr. Warraq's beef with Said, however, is more a matter of reductionism than prevarication: that 'Orientalism' misses two crucial points about human nature in its discussion of relations between East and West. The first is that even the worst offenders aren't always motivated by bigotry or grand imperial designs. The second is that the institutions they erect are often more significant and enduring than their venality and greed.

Mr. Warraq praises the British of the 18th and 19th centuries for their role shepherding India's cultural renewal — not to mention in combating the corruption of British colonialism. Edmund Burke led the moral and legislative charge against Warren Hastings, the notorious head of the East India Company. James Prinsep, a secretary of the celebrated Asiatic Society of Bengal, drained the malarial swamps of Calcutta, restored the collapsing mosque of Aurangzeb stone by stone, and discovered that once-indecipherable rock inscriptions were made by the Mughal emperor Asoka Maurya. Mr. Warraq relies on several modern Indian historians, such as A.L. Basham and Nirad Chaudhuri, to emphasize the great esteem in which British Orientalists are still held — men such as Henry Thomas Colebrooke, who agitated for the end of the East India Company's monopoly and composed a systematic study of Sanskrit and Hindu law as well as the only authoritative analysis of the Veda; Sir William Jones, the 'father of Indian history' and one of the early discoverers of the Indo-European linguistic nexus (he thought Sanskrit 'more exquisitely refined' than Latin or Greek), and William Carey, the 'father of Bengali prose,' who single-handedly restored a lost literature.


This is the most lucid part of the article. I could give lots of reasons why this purported takedown of Said is problematic, but instead, I'll just quote Tacitus, quoted today in Latin primers for everybody. - By Emily Wilson - Slate Magazine:
Yet cultural imperialism is only partly a linguistic phenomenon. Ostler's claim that Latin was 'the glue that held the empire's people in place' for more than 2,000 years seems less plausible when we remember that for a long period, most educated Romans were bilingual (in Latin and Greek), and in the first and second centuries A.D., many intellectual Greek writers under the empire—such as Plutarch—had only a sketchy knowledge of Latin, or none at all. (The place of Spanish in modern America provides an interesting counterpart to Greek under Rome.) But, of course, the Romans had many other instruments by which to spread Romanitas through the world. Tacitus' account of the Roman conquest of Britain, in his Agricola (a passage quoted by Mount), provides a useful reminder of how language and education could be combined with other means of cultural domination or seduction: Roman religion, law, art, and architecture were visible signs of the empire even without the Latin language. As Tacitus remarks of the Britons, 'They even adopted our fashion of dress, and started wearing the toga; little by little they were drawn to touches of vice, such as colonnades, baths, and fancy conversations. Because they didn't know better, they called it 'civilization,' when it was part of their slavery' (idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset). The analogy with the modern world is not hard to draw: the 'Americanization' of China, Russia, and Europe has as much to do with the spread of Nike, Coca-Cola, and modern big-business capitalism as with the spread of the English language.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Annotated Application Experiment

Since I spend a lot of time using my computer, searching for new applications, and evaluating competing software, I always enjoy hearing from friends of mine about applications they use that make their lives, digital or otherwise, a little better. Every once in a while, you have those shock-of-recognition moments, where you discover an app that you've never heard of before that does something exactly right, or find a friend who has the same enthusiasm for an underappreciated piece of software that you thought was yours alone (or virtually alone).

So what I'm proposing is an experiment of sorts, where friends and blog readers share either 1) a shortlist of their favorite applications, especially ones they would like to advertise or 2) a list of all of the applications they're running on their machine, along with a short description of what each app does.

The first, feel free to share in the comments on this weblog. If you're interested in the second, contact me and we'll swap software lists (just not where any old browser can see EVERYthing).

I'll get things rolling with a fistful of "reading" programs I've found recently that I'm trying and mostly like. I use OS X, so many of this might be less useful if you run Windows or Linux, but I'm AC/DC when it comes to OSes, so send your other-system-specific apps too.

NetNewsWire - an RSS reader with a built-in tabbed web browser; also has podcast support and tight integration with blogging applications like MarsEdit (which was spun off from the original NNW application). I use NetNewsWire more than anything else, even my team of all-star browsers (I have Firefox, Flock, Safari, Camino, and Mozilla's new Prism app on my system, and before that I had more).

Yep - a PDF reader/organizer/scanner. What's especially nice about Yep are the rich tagging functions and the quick search capabilities. Also it's just easier to view a lot of PDFs with the rest of your PDF library close by. It works very well with Leap, a OS X Finder replacement from the same company.

Papers - a really promising app that's similar to Yep (if not so slick) but also includes a web browser and inline access to search databases like Google Books, Google Scholar, PubMed, and a few others. This app is so promising, but there are three problems with it for my use.

First, it's expensive, over $40 for a single user license. I'm firmly of the belief that $10-25 is the most you should pay for an app that doesn't actually let you produce anything -- and it should preferably be free. (Yep has this problem as well.)

Second, the web support is handy, but is really an afterthought. You can't bookmark web sites (except through a ridiculously convoluted process where you treat a web site like a PDF and sort it into a folder, then re-edit it so you can find it again), there's no RSS support, and while you can handily use a proxy login to credential yourself to gain access to closed resources, that then cuts you off from open resources like Google's engines. Certainly needs some tweaking.

Third, because the app is geared towards scientific and medical researchers, besides Google, there isn't much to offer in the way of search plugins for other sites. It would be great if you could easily search Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, or text databases like EEBO or ECCO, stores like Amazon, or more webby resources like Wikipedia, Technorati, etc. In other words, the software and concepts are there, but the sense of audience is so specialized that the functionality doesn't quite come together. It's a terrific way to access online information, but it's ironically quite phobic of the web itself.

But -- there is a plug-in SDK, which potentially makes it incredibly open. It would be marvelous if teams of reader/developers tackled specific zones of knowledge -- computer science, social sciences, humanities, blogs, etc., to try to make this app as versatile as possible.

In short, if you combine these three applications -- plus the versatility of a media player like VLC -- you would have my dream of an ideal electronic reader application -- an iTunes for books.

So tell me: what applications are on your mind (and on your screen) lately?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Get Your Byline On

Macworld | Google develops Wikipedia rival:

Google is developing an online publishing platform where people can write entries on subjects they know, an idea that’s close to Wikipedia’s user-contributed encyclopedia but with key differences.

The project, which is in an invitation-only beta stage, lets users create clean-looking Web pages with their photo and write entries on, for example, insomnia. Those entries are called ‘knols’ for ‘unit of knowledge,’ Google said.

Google wants the knols to develop into a deep repository of knowledge, covering topics such as geography, history and entertainment.

Google’s project will have to catch up with Wikipedia, which includes more than 7 million articles in 200 languages. Anonymous users constantly update Wikipedia entries in an ever-growing online encyclopedia that’s edited by a network of vetted editors.

But Google asserts that the Web’s development so far has neglected the importance of the bylined author.

‘We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content,’ wrote Udi Manber, vice president of engineering, on the official Google blog."



Totally interesting -- and quite distinct -- model. If anyone has a beta invite to this program in their pocket, I would love to get one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Programming Journalism, Programming Academia

Adrian Holovaty:

Now that the Django Book is finally in the can, I'm mulling the idea of writing another book -- this time, a book about online journalism. In the past two years, I've been to (way too) many journalism-related events and conferences trying to spread the good word about 'journalism via computer programming,' and I've detected a strong, I daresay furious, demand, from journalists at all levels in the org chart, for information about this new form of journalism. Higher-ups want to know why they should employ programmers; middle managers want to know how to find them and how to treat them; and working journalists want to learn these skills and strategies. The problem is that I can't point them anywhere for in-depth information. This book would attempt to solve that.

I want to take a shot at writing a manual, a manifesto, a practical guidebook to this emerging discipline of database-driven Web journalism. It would be a combination of high-level strategy and low-level technique, probably split cleanly into two parts (one for the suits, one for the non-suits).

That's about all the thought I've given to this idea. What do you think? If you're a journalist (or even not), is this something you'd be interested in?"


(Via Holovaty.com.)



I'm wondering where the manifesto is on programming-driven university teaching. As in, why does all of the software that's supposed to make it easier to distribute electronic documents and create classroom spaces STINK?

And, can Zotero and archive.org make it work?

Or, can Yale figure it out?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What's Next?

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did a joint interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher early last year at the AllThingsDigital conference. I'm linking to it now, because I've watched and thought about it more than a few times over the past year, and it's shaped a lot of my thinking about the developing state of technology, media, digital entertainment, sharing of information, etc.

One of the things that's remarkable about the talk -- besides the remarkable collision of brains, and the relative but still surprising absence of ego -- is how it manages to be both pretty accessible but still imaginative and thorough. There's a frank discussion about the past of personal computing and the developing vision for what can be done. Both of these guys have seen the incremental-yet-radical development of this world for the past thirty-plus years, and they're also tapped in to more research and cutting-edge stuff than virtually anyone. They're not necessarily visionaries, but it's a remarkably clear vision of the possibilities ahead for the next revolution.

Given all the talk about Kindle, etc., this is a talk that's worth checking out -- especially if you have over an hour to kill.

"The iPod moment"; A Snarkmarket Dialogue

Matt:

When I remember 2001, I remember Apple launching a device that garnered some admiration for its technical savvy, but whose price and function drew something of a raised eyebrow from critics. “‘Breakthrough digital device’ might be pushing it,” wrote David Pogue, in his review of the first iPod. (“Apple, don’t flatter yourself.”) Meanwhile, the first New York Times mention of the device was hardly breathless. The article quoted three people. The first was a Gartner analyst, who said, “It’s a nice feature for Macintosh users … but to the rest of the Windows world, it doesn’t make any difference.” The second was Steve Jobs, who was paraphrased as “disputing the concern that the market was limited, and said the company might have trouble meeting holiday demand. He predicted that the improvement in technology he said the iPod represented would inspire consumers to buy Macintosh computers so they could use an iPod.” The RIAA declined to comment, and another analyst simply said, ”This raises the bar.” The one actual description of the iPod in the article called it a “hybrid of existing products.” The article included an estimate that the size of the market for all digital music devices would be 18 million units by 2005.

I remember this muted enthusiasm pretty clearly because I was one of the skeptics. What could be so impressive about a portable music player? The Walkman’s been around almost as long as I have. Storage size? Honestly? What need could I possibly ever have to carry my whole music library around with me? How much music can I listen to at one time?

32 million iPods were sold in 2005. That’s not even counting other digital music devices. This year, the 100-millionth iPod was sold. Clearly there was a market need here for a vast mobile music library that most of us were blind to in 2001.

I now have three iPods.

When folks talk about Kindle doing (or not doing) for books what the iPod did for music, they usually seem to mean creating a tiny-but-capacious e-book reader that allows us to carry our library everywhere we want. But I don’t think Bezos et al. are aiming at that at all. I suspect they’re trying to create something we didn’t know we needed. A leap of imagination so bold, it could only seem obvious in hindsight. Jury’s still out on whether or not they succeeded.* But I’m wonderfully excited by the possibility that I could one day encounter something that just transforms my notion of what a book can be.

* Personally, I felt for the Kindle the murmur of a tug I hadn’t yet felt for any other digital reading devices, although not strong enough to win me over.

Tim:

I think that in 2001, the iPod was the device that made a broader cross-section of the public take mp3 players seriously, and to consider buying one. And I think the Kindle does the same with book readers. The criticism is the sign that this discussion has gone from pie-in-the-sky, wouldn't-it-be-great-if to what-can-be-done?

Also, if you look at the problems with the iPod at its launch -- too expensive, a closed system (one player, one store, one software engine, even one OS), not enough storage, a limited market, etc., then the similarities are even sharper. Apple worked remarkably quickly to overcome those criticisms, dropping prices, making the device available for Windows users, and introducing a range of devices and adding features to appeal to aa broad a user base as possible. The Kindle -- or any book reader hoping for a shot at the title -- will need to do the same.

The Kindle actually has some advantages over the first-generation iPod. It's leapfrogged to a wi-fi equipped, stand-alone device with a built-in store, just months after the iPod finally did. And by most accounts, the Kindle store works as smoothly and has the same strength of selection that initially distinguished iTunes.

But there are two clear-cut advantages I see for the 1g iPod vs. the 1g Kindle. First, even though the iPod improved its original design and interface with each iteration, nobody thought the iPod was ugly. It was able to become a prestige device in large part because it was a triumph of industrial design.

The second is more substantive. A tremendous number of people consumed music digitally between (roughly) 1997 and 2001, and were able to play that music on their iPods. The Kindle has been tremendously farsighted in including newspapers, weblogs, and online reference in addition to books, since the former and not the latter have been what we've consumed digitally. But we can't place-shift our media with the e-book reader the way we can with cds and mp3s (and now pictures and video), so a good deal of the flexibility brought by digitization is lost.

When the Kindle can let me put everything I want to read -- web pages, Snarkmarket, Yahoo Movies, a PDF I made on my PC, a comic book, a new hypertext XML book -- on the device, without making me pay again (with ad revenue or a simple HTML browser or whatever) that, I think, will be the key breakthrough. Then we'll see innovations in the design, in the way electronic texts are sold/distributed/ad-supported, in what kinds of interfaces we can use, and in the flexibility of where we get and where we can use the material. Then -- I hope -- the usage will catch up to the desire, and the new digital reading will be properly heralded with its signature device. Whatever that device -- or many devices -- turns out to be.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Let's Take This Whole Device-As-Service Thing Seriously

"Kindle Maths 101," by Ben Vershbow at if:book:

Do we really need an iPod for books? / We might, maybe (putting aside for the moment objections to the ultra-proprietary nature of the Kindle), if Amazon were to abandon the per copy idea altogether and go for a subscription model. (I'm just thinking out loud here — tell me how you'd adjust this.) Let's say 40 bucks a month for full online access to the entire Amazon digital library, along with every major newspaper, magazine and blog. You'd have the basic cable option: all books accessible and searchable in full, as well as popular feedback functions like reviews and Listmania. If you want to mark a book up, share notes with other readers, clip quotes, save an offline copy, you could go "premium" for a buck or two per title (not unlike the current Upgrade option, although cheaper). Certain blockbuster titles or fancy multimedia pieces (once the Kindle's screen improves) might be premium access only — like HBO or Showtime. Amazon could market other services such as book groups, networked classroom editions, book disaggregation for custom assembled print-on-demand editions or course packs.

Vershbow also quotes Tim O'Reilly:
Unlike music, which is quickly consumed (a song takes 3 to 4 minutes to listen to, and price elasticity does have an impact on whether you try a new song or listen to an old one again), many types of books require a substantial time commitment, and having more books available more cheaply doesn't mean any more books read. Regular readers already often have huge piles of unread books, as we end up buying more than we have time for. Time, not price, is the limiting factor.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Remarkable Things With A Pen

The New York Times spotlights The Kelly Writers House at Penn in today's paper. It's a very good read; Dr. Al Filreis (or as we will now call him, "Avuncular Al"), who runs the house, is in an especially animated pose in the featured photo. It's possible that only a room full of undergraduates can induce this kind of gesture; every time I've seen Dr Filreis (that I can recall) his head and neck have been fully orthogonal to his shoulders. But that's all part of the genius of the camera.

The article spotlights the role the Writers House plays in the undergrad life at Penn, but I can testify to its importance for Penn/Philadelphia writers (and people who like writing) of all ages. Penn doesn't have an MFA program, but some of its English PhDs are astonishingly creative: Kathy Lou Schultz, Jessica Lowenthal (who works at the house now), and Josh Schuster are just three of the poet/students that I've met while I've been here. Add people like Tom Devaney -- whose poetry I discovered through his skill at scheduling events and handling tech requirements at the House -- and various area poets like Ron Silliman or Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and the faculty (Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, Greg Djanikian, Herman Beavers, and Susan Stewart before that), plus the writers-in-residence and people who visit for a day -- and you have a real home for writers on an Ivy League campus.

The House reminds me of everything I love about universities -- that in addition to being places to work and to learn, they can also be a home. Not just to the students who live on campus, but to anyone who can find support and friendship and make themselves at home there.

When I first applied to Penn, as a neophyte modernist scholar who had written a lot of poetry (good and not good) and founded literary magazines and was still interested in contemporary writing, I had known that Susan Stewart and Bob Perelman were at Penn, but I hadn't known how important the house was going to be for me. Karen Volkman, a poet I worked with in Chicago, tried to tell me how different it would be, all but urging me to go. I was lucky to take a course on American poetry with Al Filreis at the house my first semester at Penn, and to work on Theorizing, a KWH-hosted lecture series on literary theory I've coordinated since 2003. Every visitor who comes to campus, the first place I take them is the Writers House.

My mom suggested that I get married there (not that it's officially available for weddings). Sometimes, I wish that I had.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Handsome Carmody Dashing Genius

David Pogue on using number of search results to prove an argument: "On Google, ‘chicken armadillo’ gets 595,000 hits. ‘Banana carburetor’ gets 132,000 hits. ‘Liquefy purple warthogs’ is just about the most ridiculous improbable phrase I could come up with, and even that one gets 303 results, for crying out loud.

Once you start down this road, you’ll discover that you can prove any point at all. If you’re arguing that Microsoft tortures puppies, you could write, ‘A Google search for ‘Microsoft puppy torture’ returned 264,000 results,’ and you’d be correct (about the results, I mean—not the conclusion)."



Butchered, Redesigned, Reordered, Chopped, Snipped and Split

One of the many reasons I love Steven Morrissey, and think he may be the most interesting superstar in popular music of the past quarter-century, is that he makes distinctions like "empirical history":

The NME have, in the past, offered me their "Godlike Genius Award" and I had politely refused. With the Tim Jonze inteview, the Award was offered once again, this time with the added request that I headline their forthcoming awards concert at the O2 Arena, and once again I declined it. This is nothing personal against the NME, although the distressing article would suggest the editor took it as such. My own view is that award ceremonies in pop music are dreadful to witness and are simply a way of the industry warning the artist "see how much you need us" - and, yes, the 'new' NME is very much integrated into the industry, whereas, deep in the magazine's empirical history, the New Musical Express was a propelling force that answered to no one.

...

Into the 90s, the NME's discernment and polish became faded nobility, and there it died - but better dead than worn away. The wit imitated by the 90s understudies of Morley and Burchill assumed nastiness to be greatness, and were thus rewarded. But nastiness isn't wit and no writers from the 90s NME survive. Even with sarcasm, irony and innuendo there is an art, of sorts. Now deep in the bosom of time, it is the greatness of the NME's history on which the 'new' NME assumes its relevance.

As Stereogum writes, "In matters of pens and swords, you're fencing with the best." You can follow the link for longer excerpts from Morrissey's letter.

Background here: the short story is that Morrissey gave British music mag NME an interview which was edited/presented to highlight statements that appear anti-immigrant/xenophobic.

Oh, Panic on the Streets of Birmingham. Do tell us what the Brits -- and the greatest Morrissey fan in the world -- think about all of this.

The Social (Un)necessity of Narrative

Ron Silliman on narrative in poetry, the novel, and film:

I agree with Pierre Bayard that literature – he goes further & says culture – is a ‘system’ before it is individual books, individual poets, individual poems. Which is what I mean when I say that there is no such thing as a poet, there are only kinds of poets. It’s not about what you write – it’s about location, location, location. What you write is what gets you into (or out of) a particular location. I know it’s not how it feels when you or I write a poem, but that is the overarching social dynamic that takes place. One of the reasons I keep putting in links about English-language poetry stories from such diverse places as Nigeria & Pakistan is because I want to understand now what the world of my poetry is going to look like just a few decades hence, when such poetries are as much a presence in the then-equivalent of Jacket as Australian verse is now...

As I’ve argued before – and no doubt will be forced to again – poetry’s role as a carrier of narrative declined markedly with the rise of the novel. An alternative had come along that handled narrative far more efficiently. The form of the novel was explicitly designed to do so. And the history of the novel is that it too has struggled once cinema arrived because the novel's social necessity was then taken over by the flickering screen. To what degree today are novels (& especially short stories) simply plot ideas for screenplays? Quite a bit more than we might be willing to admit. This is why the ‘traditional’ novel has declined markedly, to be replaced instead by its own School of Quietude (Bellow, Cheever, Updike, Roth) on the one hand, and a series of genre alternatives, each of which is driven by the needs of its specific genre. In addition to the usual genre alternatives, sci-fi, romance, porn, such fields as ‘experimental’ and even ‘Oprah’ (aka ‘book club ‘) fiction all thrive – it is only the ‘serious, traditional’ novel that is in its death throes.

I don't know whether "efficiency" is the right word to describe the novel's displacement of poetry as a vehicle for narrative (or for film's subsequent dislocation of the novel) -- unless we're able to think about "efficiency" not as something wholly intrinsic to the medium itself, but in the context of social or systemic necessity.

Poetry (particularly epic poetry) does different things with narrative than the "traditional" novel does. If you're a fluent producer/consumer of the shape/dimensions/social context of narrative that poetry provides, then it can be an absolutely superior way to consume narrative -- at least particular kinds of narrative. It's just that the vast majority of us are no longer fluent in this mode of narrative; we've all coordinated ourselves and our aesthetic expectations around (first) the novel and then cinema.

In technological studies, this is called path-dependence. The longer you use something, and the greater the social coordination costs and returns, the more efficient a technological network becomes, not because of its inherent efficiency but because the costs of switching become too high. It's like trying to switch from a QWERTY keyboard to some other system. Sooner or later, the kids are banging out text messages with their thumbs, but it takes a lot of time.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blogs of Innocence, Blogs of Experience

Chris Meade at if:book:

William Blake, the man who wandered through the charter'd streets of London finding in the face of every passerby 'marks of weakness, marks of woe', who engraved and painted his own books of poems, selling his songs on subscription (or failing to sell them), would have made one hell of a blogger too. I imagine him mashing up maps of Hampstead with his personal mythology, forging a new kind of book on the anvil of his laptop, engaging his community of readers in fervent debate, plying them with animations of innocence and experience.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sorting By Attention, Not Content

Sink or Swim: Managing RSS Feeds with Better Groups (43 Folders):

When given the option to group things, we tend to do it topically, with labels like “Sports,” “Technology,” “Blogs,” etc. For years, I lumped my feeds into folders like this, thinking it would help me manage them, but all it did was help me ignore just how many I’d subscribed to by tucking them away in folders. I still looked at the growing numbers of unread items and felt that endless sense of dread that I would never finish...So it dawned on me to group my feeds by the way in which I want to read them, not by topic. If there were some feeds that I didn’t mind missing, and some of which I wanted to read every single word, I should organize them that way, not by their putative subject areas.
Feed Reading (Kottke.org):
I have several folders for reading long-form blogs:

Always
Often
Sometimes
Pending
Food and Drink
Frippery
Infoglut

Always, Often, and Sometimes are self-explanatory. The Pending folder is for blogs that I'm trying out, Frippery is stuff that is non-kottke.org-related to be read during non-work hours (ha!), and the Infoglut folder contains a bunch of blogs that have a low signal-to-noise ratio and are too high volume to keep up with unless everything else is read (any multi-author pro blogs that I read (not many) are in here)...

All this folder business might seem overcomplicated, but I find that grouping feeds by mode helps greatly. And by mode, I mean when I'm reading link blogs, that's a different style than reading/skimming long-form blogs in the Always folder. Posts from link blogs usually take a few seconds to read/evaluate/discard while the Always folder posts take longer. If they were all lumped together, I couldn't get through them as quickly and thoroughly as I can separately. A juggling analogy will help -- Wait! Don't leave, I'm almost done! -- it's easier to juggle balls or clubs or knives than it is to juggle balls, knives, and clubs at the same time...same thing with different kinds of blog posts.

Wheel, Mattress, Lawnmower

"Proof of Concept"; A dialogue.

Sid (Caesar): "The guy who invented the wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius."

Tim: Who am I to argue with Sid Caesar? But as William Carlos Williams knew, the wheelbarrow is a pretty genius invention. Sometimes one wheel is enough.

Al (Filreis): The flaw in Cid's thinking is in the assumption of the precise number of wheels that take a concept beyond its invention. (He was such an automobile-age sachem.) But the thought about thinking is still good to me: Invention is a thing done to a concept.

Tim: I agree. I'm also reminded of Pound's quote of Leger quoting Hegel in the ABC of Reading.

Hegel/Leger/Pound: "Man should be prouder of having invented the hammer and nail than of having created masterpieces of imitation."

Tim: Then Pound goes on to quote Spinoza.

Baruch (Spinoza): "The intellectual love of a thing consists in understanding its perfections."

Ezra (Pound): "You don't sleep on a hammer or lawn-mower, you don't drive nails with a mattress. Why should people go on applying the SAME critical standards to writings as different in purpose and effect as a lawn mower and a sofa cushion?"

Tim: Given that Pound refers to the latter kind of writing as an "REPOSE, dope, opiates, mental beds," and later attacks Shakespeare for having "upholstered" language, Pound does seem to be positioning himself on the hammer/lawnmower end of the spectrum. The Pound/Williams generation didn't just say "no ideas but in things" -- they really did seem to try to use things to think.

Current Internet Reading, Without Comment

"Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass," Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Magazine.

Consider the Gawker mind-fuck at a time of rapid deterioration of our industry: Young print journalists are depressed over the state of the industry and their inability to locate challenging work or a job with health insurance. Although the situation may not be as dire as they might imagine—a healthy magazine is constantly on the hunt for young writers, because it wants the fresh take on the world found only in the young, and because young writers tend to be cheap—they need a release, the daily dose of Schadenfreude offered by Gawker’s gallows humor, its ritualistic flogging of working journalists and relentless cataloguing of the industry’s fall (e.g., items like “New Republic Page Count Watch”). Though reading Gawker subtly reinforces their misery, they generate an emotional bond and soon begin to tip it with their own inside information (and misinformation, as reserved for their enemies). The system keeps getting stronger, a KGB of media gossip, a complex network of journalist spies and enforcers communicating via e-mail and IM, until Gawker knocks print out of the box. With Gawker, there is now little need for the usual gossip players like the New York Observer, vastly diminished in its news-breaking capacity and influence, or even the New York Post’s “Page Six,” emasculated by the Murdoch hierarchy after the Jared Paul Stern scandal. The panopticon is complete. “Peering into my in-box in the morning is like looking at the id of every journalist in the city,” says Gawker writer Emily Gould.
"What the Gospel of Judas really says," April D. DeConick, International Herald-Tribune.
While National Geographic's translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon... Admittedly, the society had a tough task: restoring an old gospel that was lying in a box of its own crumbs. It had been looted from an Egyptian tomb in the 1970s and languished on the underground antiquities market for decades, even spending time in someone's freezer. So it is truly incredible that the society could resurrect any part of it, let alone piece together about 85 percent of it. That said, I think the big problem is that National Geographic wanted an exclusive. So it required its scholars to sign nondisclosure statements, to not discuss the text with other experts before publication. The best scholarship is done when life-sized photos of each page of a new manuscript are published before a translation, allowing experts worldwide to share information as they independently work through the text.
"The limits of 21st-century revolutions," Roger Cohen, New York Times/IHT.
3) Oil centralizes power. Venezuelan oil fetches a lower price than most because it's harder to refine, but Chávez is still pocketing between $4 billion and $6.7 billion a month, depending on whom you believe. Give anyone in an opaque, rather than open, society more than $100 million a day and he might start raving about ruling until 2050, as Chávez has. "The tendency of the petro-state is to recentralize, petrify and personalize power," said Margarita López Maya, a political scientist who long supported Chávez but is now disillusioned. From Moscow to Luanda to Caracas, this has proved the case.
"Lots of Little Screens: TV Is Changing Shape," Denise Caruso, New York Times.
“What absolutely convinced me to start a company in this area was when I realized just how large the disruption was,” said Kip McClanahan, the co-founder and chief executive of ON Networks, an online studio in Austin, Tex. “It touches everything — how video content is created and monetized, how it’s distributed and consumed. And it’s a half-trillion-dollar market, if you include the advertising that supports it and the revenue associated with subscriptions, tickets and so on.”