Archive for July 2009
Noted for posterity:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
Tom Vanderbilt has penned a good piece about how great a well-designed roundabout is. Americans’ gut-level aversion is baffling to me, especially now that my commute features a few.
Though it’a hardly the most enlightening interview I’ve ever read, this interview with a Somali pirate does have some interesting tidbits. This, for example, shocked me:
How much does it cost to outfit a pirate mission?
A single mission with 12 armed men and boats costs a little over $30,000. But a successful investor has to dispatch at least three or four missions to get lucky once.
It’s not the nature of the errors that so amazing, it’s their sheer number. I thought we were supposed to value print for soberness and fact checking the internet doesn’t provide:
An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite’s career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. “The CBS Evening News” overtook “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.
If you listen to — or intend to listen to — a large number of podcasts, it’s helpful to be able to play them faster than their original speed. Though Podshifter’s audio has more hiccups than my old method — using Windows Media Player’s built-in play speed slider — the flexibility pre-accelerated MP3s is much better. Just drop in the podcast’s RSS feed and add the new feed to your podcatcher.
(It’s worth noting that the conversion isn’t anywhere near instantaneous — usually taking between a minute and an hour to be downloadable. And some seem to just never happen, I’ve been trying to download a few for over a week, with no success.)
I now know who to blame whenever I feel bad about using “they” as a singular pronoun.
Anne Fisher (1719-78) was not only a woman of letters but also a prosperous entrepreneur. She ran a school for young ladies and operated a printing business and a newspaper in Newcastle with her husband, Thomas Slack. In short, she was the last person you would expect to suggest that he should apply to both sexes. But apparently she couldn’t get her mind around the idea of using they as a singular.
And along with promising that soon the dark days of the plural-only “they” will pass into memory, the piece mention a pronoun I’d heard in lore, and begun to consider apocryphal: thon.
Now if only we could settle on a second-person plural more accurate than “you”…
(via Daring Fireball)
I noticed that my recent Netflix activity shows a heavy bias for full television seasons over two-hour movies. It brought to mind something Jason Kottke discussed a few months back:
Megamovies take television seriously as a medium. They have dramatic arcs that last longer than single episodes or seasons. … They’re shot cinematically and utilize good actors. Plot details sprawl out over multiple episodes, with viewers sometimes having to wait weeks to fit what might have seemed a throwaway line into the larger narrative puzzle.
Episodes of these megamovies, Canby argued presciently, are best watched in bunches, so that the parts more easily make the whole in the viewer’s mind. For many, bingeing on entire seasons on DVD or downloaded via iTunes has become the preferred way to watch these shows. If stamina and non-televisual responsibilities weren’t an issue, it would be preferable to watch these shows in one sitting, as one does with a movie.
Reading Lisa Katayama’s story, I was struck by the similarities to Lars and the Real Girl. It seems likely that otaku and “2-D lovers” inspired the movie, but I managed to miss that idea at the time.
These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture— the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade. It’s impossible to say exactly what portion of otaku are 2-D lovers, because the distinction between the two can be blurry. Like most otaku, the majority of 2-D lovers go to work, pay rent, hang out with friends (some are even married). Unlike most otaku, though, they have real romantic feelings for their toys.
Joshua Kurlantzick puzzles at, but doesn’t definitively answer, the question of why certain world turmoils are more passionately followed than others.
Using the difference between Tibet and Xinjiang, he posits that an organized resistance headed by a charismatic English-speaking leader is key. That sounds right, but I can’t say that it feels like a satisfactory answer. Among other things, I’d add that the complexity of the problem no doubt affects it. A “good” side and a “bad” side makes Tibet easy, where Somolia, which is read from afar is side-less chaos is just baffling.
To that end, I might cite a criticism of French foreign minister, prominent activist, and founding member of Doctors without Borders, Bernard Kouchner touched on in this excellent review:
‘Influenced by his friend Bernard-Henri Lévy, Kouchner’s worldview is schematised in the extreme,’ Péan writes. ‘It is an easy world to figure out. All you need to do is separate heroes and villains, good and evil, civilisation and barbarism, and, finally, victims and perpetrators.’
More Time-Space Maps
So fascinated was I by the idea from yesterday, I’ve hunted down a few more examples.
- Oscar Karlin redesigned the iconic London tube map so that distance were determined by travel time. So did Rod McLaren and Tom Carden.
- “Patrick” made a map showing the travel time, using public transporation exclusively, between Brussels and a number of European cities. This observation is striking:
And although Chimay is a lot closer to Brussels in the real world, with public transportation, you’d long be in Paris or London before arriving in Chimay.
- David Chatting, as enamored as I am, has saved more of these of Delicious. He’s also stretched Britain based on driving times and trains from Ipswitch.
- Personal World Map not only offers time-space shifting, but also money-space shifting. It does air travel.
These maps that don’t actually offer a time-space adjustment, but do illustrate travel times.
- The EU made a map showing how long it would take you to get to a city of 50,000 people or more from anywhere in the world.
- TripTrop has a time overlay based on the NYC subway travel time.
- A similar map of train travel times for the entirity of Britain.
- And, finally, how long it took to get from London to the world by steamship in 1920. (This from the incredibly cool Hipkiss Scanned Old Maps collection.)
I thought Jon Gertner’s piece about the decade’s long effort to bring high-speed rail to California was pretty good.
Toward the end, he make reference to the intriguing concept of time-space maps (and how high-speed rail can change them). Through the comments on a Strange Maps post of one made for Britain in the 1980s, I think I found a number of candidates for the one he’s referring to.
Jeremy Singer-Vine offers a concise history of the idea of body mass index, it’s short-comings, and an alternative: a simple measure of the circumference of a person’s waist is far more accurate at predicting their actual fitness level.
This blog has briefly mentioned the idea of giving legal rights to nature before, but Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow offers an interesting analysis of the logic, history, and ramifications of the practice. Consider:
Richard Stewart, a law professor at New York University, believes that inanimate objects such as trees and rivers do not have interests or values. Rather, he says, the argument really concerns “human ideas about what’s good for nature.”
Aside from telling an interesting story of how the Chinese government has nurtured it’s own flourishing film industry and adding a few more Chinese movies to my Netflix queue, Grady Hendrix’s piece includes this sentence:
The film [If You Are the One] has a cameo by Hitler, a suicide, some savage scenes of heartbreak, an ending that is qualified at best, and lots of jokes about Obama, the weak American dollar, and the current economic crisis.
If nothing else, Esquire’s sending their reporter in blind — all he had was a first name and an address — made me read my first celebrity interview in about a year. It’s also pretty damn fun.
It’s not that this is an exceptionally well-researched or argued essay, or one that transfers any intellectual heft by a link, it’s just that I agree with it and felt a desire to make that clear.
In an excerpt from his book, Mike Steinberger lays some of the blame for the decline of French cuisine at the door of what is usually considered its ultimate judge.
Though much of this piece — a lead essay in a Cato discussion — is stuff we’ve heard Clay Shirkey say before, this analogy struck me:
Because journalism has always been subsidized, and because the public can increasingly get involved in activities too complex for loose groups to take on before the current era, journalism is seeping into the population at large, with the models of subsidy being altered to fit that shift. The transition here is like the spread of the ability to drive, from paid chauffeurs to the whole population. We still pay people to drive, from buses to race cars, and there are more paid drivers today than there were in the days of the chauffeur. Paid drivers are, however, no longer the majority of all drivers.