Can you hear me now?

August 30, 2007

I apologize for the lack of communication these past six days.  My online service dropped out here & there after the deluge on the 23rd, raggedy storms that continue to beset the Chicago area just as I was planning a post about my imminent vacation.

So here I am, currently in London after a whirlwind tour of hamlets and villages that took me through rural England, as well as a day trip in Amsterdam proper.  There will be pictures galore when I can secure a solid connection (and more importantly an unbroken sequence of isolation) but I expect that this will not happen until I return next week. 

Watch this space for scandalous stories of travel and many comforting, disjointed dreams.


Semantic, a big big love

August 24, 2007

As digital environments grow in sophistication and scope I sense a complementary resurgence of interest in our natural environments as well. Yet ironically features of rampant biodiversity that once survived in tandem with humanity now survive largely in spite of it; many such systems are joining an ever-longer queue to stand in topographic isolation, victims of profligate waste, consumerism or cultivated mono-agricultures. As one example: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 6,000 varieties of apple trees have been lost since 1900.” To that end, I feel as though any time we can better understand even a fraction of a natural holistic system then we are closer to holding such losses at bay.

There is an unspoken positive side to over-saturation with media, a learning curve that accompanies the environment of selectivity afforded to all of us through technology. For me it comes down several key concepts: organized selectivity, interoperability, a simple design/interface, and ideally uses open-source coding/is free for users to alter. It can be as simple as the Site Search feature that Gigablast offers through its web search interface, where anyone can create a web search box for a blog or site that limits itself to a select pool of (up to) 200 web pages or files, potentially offering greater depth and authority to a guided web search. Or it can be as complex as Google Earth, where a free download allows anyone to view satellite images of any location worldwide

Organization continues to be difficult to achieve, and the reasons for this are stupefying in their complexity. Perhaps the simplest expression of these problems is the lack of a standard for archival and descriptive metadata. And that doesn’t even cover the problems associated with search terms themselves, where a search for buddha can summon results which encompass religion, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Osamu Tezuka, films such as Little Buddha, Buddha, or The Light of Asia, Herman Hesse, marijuana, Buddha Bar, meditation, Buddha-Heads, amulets, university and college curricula, etc etc etc.

Many of you probably already know I am referring in part to what Tim Berners-Lee called the Semantic Web. Numerous start-ups and seasoned web veterans are fast at work on developing protocols for just such a machine readable global database. In fact, this year there already are or will be several beta versions from hopeful Semantic Web wranglers; Radar Networks, TextDigger, Theseus in Germany and many many others. W3C has a dedicated Semantic Web Activity News blog that is worth subscribing to just for its window into the official side of things, with technical specs, links to rules for interoperability and notes on large-scale projects.

There is an article in the August 2007 issue of MIT’s Technology Review that inspired these thoughts, seemingly written for a budding librarian obsessed with modern systems of digital and material archiving. Second Earth by Wade Roush is essentially a current assessment of the ways in which we are realizing the Metaverse described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, or rather the Mirror Worlds hypothesized by David Gerlenter in his eponymous book of 1991. He traces the development of both Linden Lab’s Second Life as well as the wildly popular application Google Earth, and imagines the impact of viable synthesis of the two digital exo-systems.

Imagining an environment that truly simulates the Earth is far easier than realizing it. The estimated computational load alone would necessitate the dedication of, say, the surface of the moon to such a project. As Roush notes, “At one region [65,536-square-meter chunk of topographic architecture] per server, simulating just the 29.2 percent of the planet’s surface that’s dry land would require 2.5 billion servers and 150 dedicated nuclear power plants to keep them running. It’s the kind of system that doesn’t ‘scale well’.”

Regional weather tracking is one enticing reality, as is‘s 3-D flight tracking digital transparency for use with Google Earth. Cyber-tourism is also an intriguing possibility, helping to reduce environmental damage to fragile or endangered locations much in the way that digitization of medieval manuscripts has already done. Some cities are realizing this and Amsterdam for one has provided architectural specifications to Second Life to make visitor’s trips more realistic; Germany supplied plans and images for Berlin’s Reichstag building which now can be visited in exceptional detail by Second Lifers.

“It’s the wiring of the entire world, without the wires: tiny radio-connected sensor chips are being attached to everything worth monitoring, including bridges, ventilation systems, light fixtures, mousetraps, shipping pallets, battlefield equipment, even the human body” Even knee surgery is being improved by such sensors; three micro-sensors are inserted about the knee and GPS triangulation helps the surgeon to avoid unnecessary incisions and invasive exploration, reducing both the number of surgeries (which can be many for a knee) and an outpatient’s convalescence.

When I can ignore my skepticism and paranoia I am enchanted by the possibilities, and a small measure of my hope for humanity is restored.  As I said, I have faith in the Big Picture, and the more respect for co-dependent systems we have the closer we come to achieving a sound balance. A friend recently alerted me to Worldmapper, and their beautiful cartographic treasures seem aligned with the emerging Mirror World and with improved Semantic Web capabilities.

Through 366 world maps you are given an idiot’s guide to various global statistics, just by varying the size of geographical regions to reflect raw numbers. For example:

Want to see where people watch the most films?


How about what regions import the most fish and fish products?


Or how about regions with the most forest depletion?


It’s unbelievable, the hypnotic range of cartograms you can find on this site, each with a detailed explanation, citations and even downloadable .pdfs for you to print out and use in any way you wish. Maps about cocoa, disease, disasters, housing, trade, food, health services, literacy, labor, maternity, migrants, sanitation…

It just blows me away each day what one can find on the web, offered free and clear to the known universe.

The Full Monty

August 22, 2007

I recently came across these wonderful full access web resources and just had to share them immediately.

First up is a link to the complete Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.  Todd Haynes is an astonishingly affecting film-maker who has emotionally blind-sided me numerous times.  Poison and Safe are each arresting thought bombs in their own right, but it is Superstar that earned him his notoriety when it was banned by Karen Carpenter’s brother.  This is probably the only film that has made me cry while telling a story through the use of Barbie dolls.  I first saw it about 15 years ago in Massachusetts from a bootleg video cassette and I am extremely grateful for its presence online today.  Check it out before it disappears again.  This is straight-up biography by the way, not World-Weekly sensationalism, with a devastating portrayal of anorexia that you will not soon forget.  (a tip of the pen to girish’s 25 June 2007 blog post)

Next up is a link to Haruki Murakami’s wonderful novella Pinball 1973.  Unreleased in America and so far only available as a grossly overpriced out-of-print import from Japan, this is his second novel, part of the loosely themed Trilogy of the Rat.  Really it’s a quartet of books, comprising Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance.  You’ve likely heard of the last two, but for some reason Murakami is reluctant to release his first two novels stateside.  A genuine shame since they are each superior to his most recently translated work After Dark (though revealingly amateur, which is likely the source of his reluctance).  Check it before it too disappears into the ether.  Hopefully Hear the Wind Sing will show up as well and slake the thirst of many a Murakami fanatic.  (a tip of the hat to The Millions’ 17 May 2007 blog post)


As I stand before the mirror

August 21, 2007

Here is a sampling of what I discovered about myself today:

You are Bettie Page

Girl next door with a wild streak
You’re a famous beauty – with unique look
And the people like you are cultish about it

What Famous Pinup Are You?

You are an elitist bastard. You hate people that try too hard, actually you just hate people in general. You have excellent taste in alcohol, however, and probably have an excellent collection of classical and experimental music.

What kind of goth are you?
Created by ptocheia

You Should Learn French

C’est super! You appreciate the finer things in life… wine, art, cheese, love affairs.
You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up…

What Language Should You Learn?

What Type of Librarian Are You?

You are Mary, from “Party Girl.”
Take this quiz!

You Communicate Like a Woman

You empathize, talk things out, and express your emotions freely.
You’re a good listener, and you’re non-judgmental with your advice.
Communication is how you connect with people.
You’re always up for a long talk, no matter how difficult the subject matter is.

Do You Communicate Like a Man or a Woman?

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm



You’re probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people’s grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader



Book Snob



Literate Good Citizen



Fad Reader






What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz
What CLAMP School Detective Are You?Hosted by Anime. Done right.

All about Ingmar

You scored 6 out of a possible 10
Very good. The world would be a better place if the general populace was as clued up as you are about Ingmar Bergman’s films.
…and finally, most impressively of all,

What President are you?

Our 1st President, George Washington
Take this quiz!

p.s. One more day before classes are over!

Rewind, Passaic

August 19, 2007

Jack Black as Robocop in Be Kind, Rewind

from Worst Preview’s Be Kind, Rewind image gallery

Michel Gondry is fast at work on editing his next rêverie-opus, Be Kind, Rewind. The principal filming is done & the trailer is out, and I am currently eager:with reservations for this one. Eternal Sunshine absolutely captivated me, perhaps the only mainstream film worthy of multiple trips to the big screen in the past four years. (Bong Joon-ho’s indie enviro-monster movie Gwoemul, or The Host, also got me out of the house more than once) I for one felt sucker-punched by the hypnagogic portal into Joel and Clementine’s relationship, buffeted roughly by the raw emotion and kernels of truth in Joel’s awakening. That film (and Gondry’s Director Series DVD) earned him a few trips to the theater on faith alone.

Be Kind, Rewind has something to do with recreating scenes from successful films of the past (In the trailer you see Robocop, Back to the Future, Driving Miss Daisy and Ghostbusters & others) after a freak accident erases a rental store’s VHS tapes. Could be purely indulgent, like listening to Huey Lewis’ Sports album on vinyl; or perhaps indulgent (as the trailer suggests) as piss-take on copyright and bloated budgets; or, due to an extra-national pandemic delusion, it could inspire cultural catharsis, jump-starting our unchecked descent into knee-jerk retro-fetishism of the third kind. We could certainly use a social catalyst, but more than likely, with Jack Black, Mos Def and Danny Glover on board it’ll probably be enchanting & frustrating on mindless, sub-Science of Sleep level.

The kicker for me is that he filmed it in Passaic, New Jersey, hardly a stone’s throw from my home town! Is it possible that Gondry married the poetic documentary moments of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party with his dream fiction? I heard about it after my last visit to Jersey, and by the time I made it back the set had closed shop. Damn, I want to meet Gondry. I am certain that my visual sense and playful, unhinged nature would thoroughly complement whatever task he needed help with… I keep meaning to send him a print of one of my collages but my daily bubble of habits always get in the way. Or perhaps our kinship is a classical gnostic syzygy, potentially doomed by a non-synchronous flux over aeons.

Syzygy No. 32

Somebody already did all the work for me and compiled a fairly large collection of interviews with Michel Gondry. Thank you SiouxWIRE! After reading four interview for possible inclusion in this post, trying to choose one seemed utterly daft. Gondry always appears to summon a modicum of verbal anarchy wherever he goes, which if you’ve seen his music videos or especially the autobiographical I’ve Been 12 Forever film, you know what I mean. If you have a choice, audio/video is the way to go.

If Be Kind, Rewind is a bit daft, at least there are numerous other upcoming films to get excited about. the art of memory’s 26 July 2007 blog post about No Country For Old Men lists more than a few that I agree with. But for pure popcorn and Internet-savvy, the trailer and viral marketing for 1-18-08 has certainly piqued my interest. I’ve never even seen an episode of Lost or MI:III or other Abrams project, but at least until more of substance is released I’ll be paying attention. If you missed the trailer, here it is:

p.s. Only three more days until Summer session 2 is over!

stubborn necessity

August 19, 2007


Emerging electronic media , although transformative in many ways, are not reinventing our relationship to books. As with any change in the human environment, polarizing opinions tend to dominate ways of understanding. This will obscure genuine trends, making it harder to imagine what a book in 2015 might look like. First it might be best to observe the historical book of yesterday.

Books, as a communicative form, have maintained a dominance over informational authority, dissemination of meaning, and community imagination across a global culture for centuries. The dynamism of oral historical transmission is not possible once the word is written down, but almost every other significant intellectual and relational human development is arguably attributable to the book. Religion is able to define values and right behaviors, lawmakers are able to establish precedent, merchants are able to codify national and international bartering systems, and policy makers are accountable to history. Once Averroes (nee Abul-Waleed Muhammad Ibn Rushd) reintroduced the West to Aristotle, a revolution of individuation began which we continue to work through to today.

St. Matthew from the Gospel Book of Charlemagne, c.800-10.

from St. Matthew, from the Gospel Book of Charlemagne, c.800-10.

Manuscripts were instrumental in this, yet without standardization, context and meaning could change. The first widespread re-imagining of the book occurred with Gutenberg’s movable type. (Though China achieved this with baked clay over 400 years earlier, the basic realities of Chinese script prevented common use.) The Gutenberg Galaxy as Marshall McLuhan labeled it, enabled text to be set in a way previously not possible. As more and more copies of a work were produced, identically and rapidly, paradigmatic precedents could be more quickly established. People were able to communicate more effectively, much like the initial standardized catechisms for Christians, yet more personally and frequently.

The manipulation of meaning in a written work prior to printing presses has never entirely gone away, though it was slowed for a time once editions numbered in thousands. Anxiety about losing authoritative, factual information is justified, especially in a world where entities such as Google are becoming global repositories on an unprecedented scale.

Yet this anxiety must be contextualized. The West, circa 1200a.d., did not even know what it was missing until Averrose translated Aristotle. How many books are really in the Bible? And written by whose hand? Absolute meaning is illusory, a reflection of a human need more than an accurate representation of truth. This scientific, rational age is dependant upon the assumption that facts, once discovered, are eternal. Books reflect all dimensions of human experience, and their authority is granted by a wish for it to be so. Through neglect, propagandism and selectivity, meaning is negotiated over time.

Propaganda Billboard in Iran

from Crazy and Funny Billboards

Part of the problem with wondering about books’ future is that historically the idea of what a book is has changed. For me, today’s eBook is akin to the copying of books by monks from Charlemagne’s time until the printing press. Manuscripts would change, depending on the inclinations of the monk, his attentiveness, or even the physical degradation of the source text. Something like Wikipedia, though materially sped up, is as malleable as a handwritten manuscript.

Our imagined book is fixed in time, a static recitation of alphabetic or logographic symbols. This is a very limited definition of what a book is. For Max Ernst or Paul Eluard, a book might be a collection of collages in lieu of words. For Alexsandr Rodchenko, a book may contain coins, twine, letter pressings and glass. For Katsushika Hokusai, a book may be a printed fan, a single sheet of paper bound accordion-style, or even a tiny box of lithographs centered on a single theme. The “Museum of the Book” already exists, and even did as a concept in the time of Charlemagne, when he sought to re-establish the lineage of Roman philosophy nearly lost to Visigothic and Vandal raids.

The question then might properly be “What is the possible effect that digitalization will bring?” The primacy of books can be attributed to many factors: portability, accessibility, affordability, durability, familiarity, and readability, among others. Until digital means can approximate or replicate all of these conditions, books as physical artifacts with paper bones and inky blood will not be replaced.

Portability for electronic books is on the verge of realization, as is accessibility. Affordability? Maybe not. Durability is unlikely, considering that many manufacturers rely on either inferior craftsmanship or software updates to ensure a continual need for purchasing new equipment. Familiarity can only be established over time. A foremost concern is readability, for though the human eye will adapt to longer exposure times to electronic stimuli, it remains difficult to enjoy an electronic work for as long a time as one can a book.

Moving images will survive, though perhaps that is too young a model. Music has undergone about as many transformations as the written word, be it private amusement, communication, traveling minstrels, orchestral engagements, wax cylinders, vinyl and digital storage. Books will continue to thrive, fluidly, stubbornly, but mainly out of necessity.

Writing Cards

Save That Date

August 17, 2007

A hundred points and a virtual chocolate cupcake to the first readers who know what these people have in common:

…and 28 Russians from the Ulyanovsk region in 2006?

…All of them celebrate their birthday on June 12th!

So out of 11,485 photos tagged “chocolate cupcake” in Flickr, only 1,560 are licensed by creative commons. What’s the deal? A tenth of all people like to share their cupcakes? Plus most of them are froofy, adulterated by caramel, peanut butter, currants, raisins, peppermint, and even one brave soul’s chocolate-covered ant cupcake; and what’s the deal with the risible “chocolate-coffee cupcake with mocha ganache and marscapone cream and cinnamon?” Suspicious. It sounds like a punchline to a Starbucks joke to me… The Japanese one that resembles and is named for a hedgehog certainly wins points, but as a lifelong chocolate addict I can only offer in good conscience these lovely morsels to those who guessed correctly:

IMG_9466 (chocolate cupcakes!)

And here are your points as well. Don’t forget to save your points, there may be prizes in the future when I start making up my own Thursday night quizzes.

Congratulations to the lucky winners!

100 points

In the centrally located region, of Russia, once known by the name Simbirsk and today most renowned for being the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, Ulyanovsk’s current Governor Sergei Morozov is trying to remedy the flagging birth rates in his beloved homeland. With projections of further population decline well into the 2040s, currently one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world, Governor Morozov is offering cash incentives, SUVs and refrigerators to women who bear children on June 12th.

To that end, September 12th has been declared Day of Conception since 2005, and able-bodied patriots are given paid time off from work on that day in order to meet the challenge. I’m not sure how many have signed up so far this year, but last year it was 500 women, up from 311 the previous year. As a proud June 12th-er, I am wholeheartedly in favor of this scheme, demented procreative game show though it is, assuming that Russia doesn’t plan to invade Hungary again of course. Historically, they did offer Lithuania independence in 1920 on June 12th after all, but they also executed anti-Soviet Trotskyists in 1937 on the 12th, as well as elect Boris Yeltsin in 1991

No matter. Either way, the world can only be improved by there being more of us June 12th-ers, so come on & help me pass around those September 12th sign up sheets. Hey, at least it’s another day off work, right?