april – may 06

4/30/2006

I LOVE YOU A GOOGLEPLEX

NYT magazine profiles Kai-Fu Lee, head of operations at Google.cn; his enthusiasm is at first, irresistible:

[He] wears the company’s earnest, utopian ethos on his sleeve: when he was hired away from Microsoft, he published a gushingly emotional open letter on his personal Web site, praising Google’s mission to bring information to the masses. He concluded with an exuberant equation that translates as “youth + freedom + equality + bottom-up innovation + user focus + don’t be evil = The Miracle of Google.”

But, in this fascinating article, Clive Thompson asks how do they “square that with making nice with a repressive Chinese regime and the Communist Party behind it?”:

One mistake Westerners frequently make about China is to assume that the government is furtive about its censorship. On the contrary, the party is quite matter of fact about it — proud, even. One American businessman who would speak only anonymously told me the story of attending an award ceremony last year held by the Internet Society of China for Internet firms, including the major Internet service providers. “I’m sitting there in the audience for this thing,” he recounted, “and they say, ‘And now it’s time to award our annual Self-Discipline Awards!’ And they gave 10 companies an award. They gave them a plaque. They shook hands. The minister was there; he took his picture with each guy. It was basically like Excellence in Self-Censorship — and everybody in the audience is, like, clapping.” 

Posted by site admin at 1:04 am |

WHAT PRICE ART?

Do copyrights artificially inflate creative work? Tim Lee (via Yglesias) believes otherwise:

[It’s] hardly groundbreaking to point out that some creative works could be produced without the IP system. The central question is whether, on the margin, intellectual property increases or decreases incentives for the production of creative works.

[…]

If non-commercial, decentralized production methods really are superior, they should be able to prove their worth without changes to the copyright system. So I’m perfectly willing to take a wait-and-see attitude. If, 20 years from now, we’re all running Linux, going to movies produced by volunteers in their free time, and taking drugs produced at low cost by Universities, then we can by all means abolish intellectual property then. But right now, intellectual property seems to be doing a pretty good job of stimulating the production of creative works, and I’m not inclined to upset the apple cart without a good reason.

By this logic, forget subjective value, big always equals best. 

But that is the same case for corporate welfare. “On the margin,” $1 billion in economic development subsidies sure provides an incentive for Walmart to build more stores. Knee-jerk anti-state argument set aside; we then suffer from a lack of local knowledge. A neighborhood grocer will usually respond to the demands of his customers much quicker than Walmart might. But, without the government backing him; he may not be around long enough to keep running on that advantage. Similarly, local artists and musicians will immediately benefit from a copyright-free society. Mega-celebs like Hillary Duff will flail; but did we want her questionable talent in the first place?

But back to subjective value: does creative work ever need incentive? Isn’t creation incentive alone? Why shame independent artists as merely “volunteers?” If only we could see what would come out of a free culture “20 years from now…”

Posted by site admin at 12:45 am |

4/28/2006

WITH THIS RINGER I THEE WED

I have a friend who is having a heck of a time trying to find a cell phone contract that won’t outlast most marriages. Where did all the 12-months plus free phone deals go? I always wished the thrifty and efficient European-style prepaid method would make it’s way to our country; but now we’re moving even farther in the opposite direction. Besides our fear of commitment; how’s a foreigner in town for a couple months to make due without getting billed at about the rate of his roundtrip ticket? What if you’re jet-set on a budget and can’t expense an unlocked world phone? Wired News had an article some time ago that theorizes cell phone companies may eventually use the DMCA to go after unlocked phone dealers; similar to the Lexmark’s unsuccess case last year. Unlikely; but you bet they’ve got something evil up their sleeves. 5-year contracts? A camera phone in exchange for your first born? Here’s to hoping prepaid plans get their act together in the meantime; otherwise I’ll retire mine. If it means never hearing the MIDI version of Europe’s “Final Countdown,” which I downloaded, have since found irksome, but have been to lazy to remove; well then, even better.

Posted by site admin at 7:33 pm |

4/26/2006

DEVILS INSIDE

Anais Nin, at the age of forty, purchased an old hand-press, rented space to house it, and printed her first book; it took her an “hour and a half to typeset half a page.” Philip K Dick’s wife wallpapered their kitchen with his rejection letters – as many as seventeen would arrive in a day. Point to any innovator and you’ll find someone with skin tough enough, (albeit often times bruised and bloodied,) to withstand the proverbial door slamming in his face.

Clearly a lot of people get slammed because their work simply isn’t good. So how do we sift for literary gold? Start by seeking-out quality contemporary work from diverse sources. To say there are no Pynchons, no J. D. Salingers, no Prousts, no Dickens’, hell, no Shakespeares in 2006 is simply shortsighted. We shouldn’t wait twenty years to determine who has best captured our own generation.

I’m much more likely to thumb through magazines like Maisonneuve than any city-eponymous publication; and make an effort to sit in on every reading Gapers Block announces – no matter how small and basement-like the venue. That being said, twenty years is a generous estimate. It can take much longer than that before talent gets its due. Why isn’t Anna Kavan a household name?

Supporting contemporary art is based in the same principle as tipping your waitress 20%. This has nothing to do with an adolescent-like drive for identity defined by obscure taste. If one reads obscure books, he will have obscure thoughts.

I have enormous respect for people like Roxanne M. Carter, who, motivated with as much passion to find an audience as Anais Nin did years ago, started her own small press.

But on the heels of the ‘zine generation, and with blogger.com reinforcing Robert Wilensky’sjoke that, “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true” – the gold and sediment metaphor is all too true. SlushPile answers “Why People Hate Self-Published Authors”:

We also know people who are intelligent, hard-working, determined, and valid contributors to society who didn’t graduate from college. Bill Gates, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Frank Lloyd Wright are but a few icons of this society who didn’t finish higher education.

Now, let’s say that Rejected Rob applies to every college in this country and they all reject me. His GPA isn’t good enough, his test scores are poor, and he smells bad. Or maybe they just don’t understand a truly individual brand of personal genius. Not a single college or university admits Rejected Rob.

“What do those people know?” he rants. “Bill Gates didn’t finish college, big deal! Plenty of intelligent people fall through the cracks and don’t get in while legacies and rich kids are welcomed with open arms. Who are they to judge me? Once I get into the work force, I’ll succeed or fail based on my own merits. All I need is a chance!”

So, fueled by his rage at being excluded by higher education in this country, Rejected Rob decides to form my own college. He incorporates the name Rob’s Kick Ass Institute of Learning and print his own diploma. Not content with a dot matrix diploma, he orders a bunch of business cards that read “Rejected Rob: College Graduate.”

Damn the subjectivity of this subject matter because P.K. Dick was a “Rejected Rob” in the 1950’s; just as much as a number of bumbling others who never got out of the sci-fi publishing puppy mills of that era.

There’s an economic argument to be made here that I’m just not clever enough to flesh out yet. Perhaps there is an incentive by authors and their agents to starve off real talent as it will serve as competition to their own work; as is the case with radio payola and business cartels. In any case; there are new voices to be heard – even if it takes a lot of sifting.

Posted by site admin at 12:07 pm |

4/25/2006

WANNA BE A PART OF B. A?

You’re either kicking yourself for taking Latin instead; or dusting off your old Spanish textbooks after reading the Washington Post’s article on the next next Paris of the 20s: Buenos Aires. Let’s take a trip:

Meghan Curry starts her day with a walk to the river. The former real estate agent from Denver, who is 26, holds hands with her fiance, Patricio de Vasconcellos, 31, a wavy-haired Argentine with dark eyes, as they gaze over the coffee-colored waters of the Rio de la Plata. Around midday, when de Vasconcellos heads to work at the wine shop where the two met a year ago, Curry settles into her two-bedroom apartment to work on her travel memoir and a collection of poetry. Then she might nap or head downtown for café con leche with friends at one of the city’s thousands of outdoor cafes. Later, much later, it’s time for a slow dinner on Buenos Aires time, where many restaurants don’t open until 10 p.m. 

“This,” said Curry, “I could never do if I had to earn more than $6,000 a year.”

Her apartment rents for $250 a month. An espresso costs about 65 cents. A restaurant dinner – appetizers, thick steaks and wine – costs about $25 for two. Stylish leather handbags from designer boutiques go for $20. Tickets for first-run American movies are about $3.50

Godbless the purchasing power parity. 

Posted by site admin at 5:28 pm |

IN PRAISE OF THE NAVAL GAZE

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams has a playfully Veronica Geng-like essay reminding us of life’s most immediate indulgance: the impatient anticipation of indulgence; “[this] valuable place …. this emotional state of not actually being asleep that is to all intents and purposes, being asleep”:

According to research by Dr Richard Ralley, a psychology lecturer at Edge Hill College in Ormskirk, Lancashire, boredom is valuable for children. It is an evolutionary necessity, like rage and fear. It might or might not constitute some kind of emotio-intellectual recuperation. Dr Ralley does not know yet, but he hopes to have some results soon. He had this idea, you know, in 1999, but didn’t start researching it until the beginning of 2006.

The interesting thing about boredom, Ralley says, is that: “Boredom is unpleasant. You would expect an unpleasant emotion to have a really straightforward motivational effect, so being bored would make you get up and do something. But that doesn’t seem to be the case – where people have written about being bored, they describe just sitting about more. You withdraw from things, so maybe there’s an energy-conservation function going on. But at the same time, it is still unpleasant, and the unpleasantness could be a protection against your withdrawing completely.” What a delightful emotional knife-edge.

Posted by site admin at 12:56 pm |

4/14/2006

THE VELOCITY OF NOVELTY

Why are there no “redundancy” filter options for aggregators? Even RSS feeds don’t trim the cluttered masses of novelty links played out every day on popular gossip sites. “Marxy” atPliink has coined the term, Schadenfreude Dailies to describe them; the websites –

staffed by bitter twenty-somethings bent on wrecking every pillar of contemporary popular culture. The anger may conveniently resemble common arguments against the wretchedness of the entertainment/media business, but their bile comes less from structural opposition and more from being left out in the cold. Co-optation would be easy and swift: an editorial assistant position at Conde Nast or an honorary degree from Dartmouth.

But combine the SD’s with other “content aggregators” like BoingBoing.net, and you will easily read about the same stupid Britney Spears childbirth sculpture six or seven times within a fifteen minute period. Almost every Internet “item” is just a one-note gimmick to start with – somebody made jewelry out of old Cracker Jack toys! somebody made a map of the former U.S.S.R. out of cupcakes! somebody made an granary out of this old chemical weapons factory! – and you are exhausted by the whole thing just minutes after the first appearance of the information.

Posted by site admin at 4:03 pm |

ROOT.NET OF ALL THAT’S EVIL

Where would I be without Netflix, Amazon, and Last.fm? Well, certainly less satisfied with my movie, book, and music selections. And preference model software is an excellent way to maintain brand loyalty. Whether or not I get my $10 worth renting movies via Netflix, it’s worth it to me to have the stored data of my movie ratings and recommended picks. Tim O’Reilly calls it the “Architecture of Participation;” and it is only going to expand until we finally see billboard advertisements beaming just for our personal particular taste and demographic, as they do in most sci-fi films, (likely at the scan of our fingerprints; the technology coming soon to a grocery store near you.)

Then there is the social component to this. Last, Amazon, and Netflix all allow you to add “friends,” but the former two default by providing your data to anyone who wants it. Netflix spares you the embarressment of telling the world you have Sex: The Annabel Chong Story andThe Story of O both out over a particularly lonely weekend; but anyone you have added as a friend will very well know what you’ve been up to.

So what should we make of Root.net – via Annalee Newitz, – the mega-data-aggregater, which records your entire clickstream after installing a Firefox plug-in? As of yet, the website is not providing “recommended websites” per similar clicks; but it inevitably will. It isn’t offering much of anything besides privacy fears. Well, guess what folks, your employer might be recording your visit to this very website too. If this is your concern, the answer is simple:

Don’t install it.

Posted by site admin at 2:25 pm |

4/4/2006

01:02:03 04/05/06

Have you slacked away your New Year’s resolutions already? Well, this particularly uncanny moment in time seems even better suited for self-reflection:

01:02:03 04/05/06

Posted by site admin at 5:33 pm |

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