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excerpt This old webcam

JU: Now there are certainly many people who will feel that these methods they get paid to practice are proprietary knowledge they wouldn’t want to reveal. My argument is that in a lot of cases, by demonstrating expertise you’ll attract more work than you lose, and that it’ll often be more interesting and rewarding work. What’s your experience?

JL: Both of those ideas do play strongly in the building trades. It’s a real tradition to keep secrets. Going back hundreds and hundreds of years, with the guild systems, there were ways to control the sharing of that kind of knowledge. And it’s still the case. Not every plasterer who can do those decorative Ionic capitals wants everybody to know exactly how they do it. But they do want everybody to know that it can be done.

You’re right, this is how artisans can do good marketing — by letting people know what is involved, by showing some of these methods, and they don’t have to give up all their secrets in order to do that. But you can help people to understand that it’s not just a machine spitting out product, it’s people making stuff with their minds and their hands and their hearts.

a Ideas blog post, 17 November 2008

Internet | Get up to speed with the view of blogs as descended from Renaissance “cabinets of wonder,” or Wunderkammern. Back then, they were encyclopedic, idiosyncratic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined by modern science. Bloggers, too, “present a collection of images, ideas, and objects in a style and order specific to his or her own vision: a personal taxonomy.” [Cabinet of Wonder, Julian Dibbell]

from "Theses on Netflix," by Tom Slee, Whimsley, 24 November 2008 :: thanks Koranteng


Recommender systems can increase the experience of diversity. By drawing attention to items individuals have not found by themselves, they can lead to new experiences. But individual diversity is different from overall diversity. Some systems can increase both individual and overall diversity. Other systems increase individual diversity but, at the same time, prompt consumers to be increasingly similar to each other. Their selections then come from an increasingly narrow range of items….


The word “community” is widely used in conjunction with recommender systems, but they do little to build communities. Their use is essentially an individual, isolated act. Groups and networks are as important in the creation and experience of culture as individuals. Recommender systems will play a role in how culture is experienced, but they are not necessarily a strong force pushing us either towards or away from a healthy culture.


Recommender systems only filter culture, in various ways; the point is to create environments in which culture can prosper.

from "Amazon Kindle, Just the Right Mix of Book and Nonbook," by Virginia Heffernan,, 31 October 2008 :: via Alan Jacobs

Really, it’s terrible. How this prototype ever made it into production I don’t know. It’s as if its creators had never seen an iPhone. Or a Walkman, for that matter. Where have they been? And the Internet capability that the device offers (almost exclusively so you can download books and other reading material from Amazon) is so poor — its parameters so hard to determine, its browser so ungracious and inaccessible — that you’re discouraged from ever exploiting it.

At the same time, and you’d be justified in thinking I’m just seeking a silver lining to rationalize my homely new purchase (it cost $360, after all), there’s some way in which the Kindle’s weak Internet connection and elusive browser are the best parts of the machine. As I said, the Kindle feels insular and remote from the wild world of commerce and buzzing data swarms. But the fact that it’s connected to the Web sort of — it has to be, right? Or how else could I download all these books? — makes the Kindle somehow better than a book. Because while I like a few hours on an airplane, I can’t say I want to move into a locked library carrel and never visit the Internet again. And I like that the Kindle, which connects to the Web through some proprietary Amazon entity called a Whispernet, is not completely out of it. The Kindle acknowledges the Internet; it hears its clamorous demands. It just ignores those demands. For the user, this means the Kindle bestows on the contemporary reader the ultimate grace: it keeps the Internet at bay.

"Missed Connections: Where, Exactly," by very small array, 14 July, 2008.
from "Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind," by Mark Bauerlein,, 19 September 2008 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

The inclination to read a huge Victorian novel, the capacity to untangle a metaphor in a line of verse, the desire to study and emulate a distant historical figure, the urge to ponder a concept such as Heidegger’s ontic-ontological difference over and over and around and around until it breaks through as a transformative insight — those dispositions melt away with every 100 hours of browsing, blogging, IMing, Twittering, and Facebooking. The shape and tempo of online texts differ so much from academic texts that e-learning initiatives in college classrooms can’t bridge them. Screen reading is a mind-set, and we should accept its variance from academic thinking. [Jakob] Nielsen concisely outlines the difference: “I continue to believe in the linear, author-driven narrative for educational purposes. I just don’t believe the Web is optimal for delivering this experience. Instead, let’s praise old narrative forms like books and sitting around a flickering campfire — or its modern-day counterpart, the PowerPoint projector,” he says. “We should accept that the Web is too fast-paced for big-picture learning. No problem; we have other media, and each has its strengths. At the same time, the Web is perfect for narrow, just-in-time learning of information nuggets — so long as the learner already has the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts.”

So let’s restrain the digitizing of all liberal-arts classrooms. More than that, given the tidal wave of technology in young people’s lives, let’s frame a number of classrooms and courses as slow-reading (and slow-writing) spaces. Digital technology has become an imperial force, and it should meet more antagonists. Educators must keep a portion of the undergraduate experience disconnected, unplugged, and logged off.

from "Nasty as they wanna be? Policing," by Chris Colin, SF Gate, 29 September 2008 :: via

Lest your inner libertarian objects to such interventions, Champ is quick to correct the idea that the community would ultimately find its own balance.

“The amount of time it would take for the community to self-regulate—I don’t think it could sustain itself in the meantime,” she says. “Anyway, I can’t think of any successful online community where the nice, quiet, reasonable voices defeat the loud, angry ones on their own.”

In this sense, Champ doesn’t just shepherd along the Flickr ethos; she’s a larger advocate of intelligent growth in an often chaotic zone.

“People become disassociated from one another online. The computer somehow nullifies the social contract,” she says. In other words, people sometimes go nuts amid the anonymity of the Internet.

from "Personal Space and Writing Novels in the Internet Era," by Jeff Vandermeer, Ecstatic Days, 13 September 2008; photo by juanpol/Flickr :: via Jacket Copy blog and Polymeme
My Powerbook

Okay, I’ll admit it: work on my new novel, Finch, is going well because every morning my long-suffering yet often amused wife Ann hides the router box and my cell phone. I get up around 7am, I have my breakfast and watch something innocuous like BBC News or Frasier for about half an hour, and then get down to work. Around noon I take a break to get some lunch, then go back to it, usually at that point editing or organizing notes. Around 2:30 I call Ann on our landline and she tells me where the router box and the cell phone are (it has internet access on it) so I can finish up the afternoon with necessary emails and other work, before going to the gym.

The internet in its many forms is, for me, a harmful and insidious enemy of novel creation. A novel takes a great deal of uninterrupted thought, not to mention uninterrupted writing. A novel in gestation does not brook interference of this kind. This isn’t just a matter of procrastination or time-wasting. It directly affects quality and depth in my opinion. The sustained effort required by a novel should not include multi-tasking on other things, if you have the option.

Ten years ago this is not something I, or anyone else, would have had to worry about. In fact, I remember writing parts of one novel in an apartment that didn’t even have electricity. Or, heck, any furniture to speak of. I got up around dawn, went to my day job, and then came back and wrote until it got dark. Sometimes I’d go to a coffee shop so I could write longer.

The point is, some forms of modern technology are, in a certain context, dangerous. Sometimes in workshops, Ann and I will force students to write longhand just to cut them off from their laptops and all the stuff that comes flying up onto the screen. Some hate it. Some realize what they’ve been missing.

from "Maybe Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid," by Caroline Langston, Good Letters: The IMAGE Blog, 26 August 2008

When I think about it, my ability to “read deeply and without distraction” is not impaired at all when it comes to 9,000 word articles in Harper’s or The Atlantic on, say, trends in urban crime, thick with policy analysis and statistics, or for that matter, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” It’s just when I try to read Proust, or heaven forbid, JR by William Gaddis—a novel that I greatly anticipated reading, but which quickly became a coaster for the glass of water on my bedside table.

A more important question, I think, is why our brains now seem to better tolerate nonfiction. Regarding Proust in particular, Carr’s argument is, for me, especially ironic: The way that I have found to actually read those long complex sentences is, in fact, to skim them—to ride along on the surface from one detailed, beautiful image of village life to another, without trying to unpack them too literally or rationally.


Participants in BudBurst monitor one or more plants, native or non-native, throughout the growing season. Along the way, they record and report the dates of events such as the first flower or first seed. Like many citizen science programs, BudBurst is modeled after the Audubon Christmas bird count, an annual volunteer effort that has provided ornithologists with a century’s worth of data.

Though some plant experts already have noticed certain species popping up unseasonably early, gardeners may be ideal for observing the subtle waxing of summers or waning of winters. They fill their plots with plants best suited to the weather, so for many, responding to climate change is simply a matter of common sense.

“There’s something about being in the dirt that puts things in perspective,” said Gina Garrison of Forest Park, who plans to monitor plants for BudBurst next spring. “Since planting my garden, I’ve looked into climate change more, looked into what would happen.”


In practical terms the ISO ruling now means that in future it should be easier to find the Eszett on computer keyboards and in programmes. But it remains to be seen how keyboard manufacturers will react. Other vulnerable European letters have come under threat in the internet era, such as the Scandinavian vowels æ, ø and å. However, official recognition for the Eszett should mean that it is protected, at least for the time being, and cannot be scrapped as it has been in Swiss German.

Kerstin Güthert, managing director of the Council for German Spelling Reform, said: “It’s up to the people to decide whether or not they will use it.”

Germany’s typographers, at least, are predicting its comeback and celebrating the Eszett’s new-found status.