Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Personal Computer Is Dead

The PC is dead. Rising numbers of mobile, lightweight, cloud-centric devices don't merely represent a change in form factor. Rather, we're seeing an unprecedented shift of power from end users and software developers on the one hand, to operating system vendors on the other—and even those who keep their PCs are being swept along. This is a little for the better, and much for the worse.

For decades we've enjoyed a simple way for people to create software and share or sell it to others. People bought general-purpose computers—PCs, including those that say Mac. Those computers came with operating systems that took care of the basics. Anyone could write and run software for an operating system, and up popped an endless assortment of spreadsheets, word processors, instant messengers, Web browsers, e-mail, and games. That software ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous to the dangerous—and there was no referee except the user's good taste and sense, with a little help from nearby nerds or antivirus software. (This worked so long as the antivirus software was not itself malware, a phenomenon that turned out to be distressingly common.)

Choosing an OS used to mean taking a bit of a plunge: since software was anchored to it, a choice of, say, Windows over Mac meant a long-term choice between different available software collections. Even if a software developer offered versions of its wares for each OS, switching from one OS to another typically meant having to buy that software all over again.

That was one reason we ended up with a single dominant OS for over two decades. People had Windows, which made software developers want to write for Windows, which made more people want to buy Windows, which made it even more appealing to software developers, and so on. In the 1990s, both the U.S. and European governments went after Microsoft in a legendary and yet, today, easily forgettable antitrust battle. Their main complaint? That Microsoft had put a thumb on the scale in competition between its own Internet Explorer browser and its primary competitor, Netscape Navigator. Microsoft did this by telling PC makers that they had to ensure that Internet Explorer was ready and waiting on the user's Windows desktop when the user unpacked the computer and set it up, whether the PC makers wanted to or not. Netscape could still be prebundled with Windows, as far as Microsoft was concerned. Years of litigation and oceans of legal documents can thus be boiled down into an essential original sin: an OS maker had unduly favored its own applications.

When the iPhone came out in 2007, its design was far more restrictive. No outside code at all was allowed on the phone; all the software on it was Apple's. What made this unremarkable—and unobjectionable—was that it was a phone, not a computer, and most competing phones were equally locked down. We counted on computers to be open platforms—hard to think of them any other way—and understood phones as appliances, more akin to radios, TVs, and coffee machines.

Then, in 2008, Apple announced a software development kit for the iPhone. Third-party developers would be welcome to write software for the phone, in just the way they'd done for years with Windows and Mac OS. With one epic exception: users could install software on a phone only if it was offered through Apple's iPhone App Store. Developers were to be accredited by Apple, and then each individual app was to be vetted, at first under standards that could be inferred only through what made it through and what didn't. For example, apps that emulated or even improved on Apple's own apps weren't allowed.

The original sin behind the Microsoft case was made much worse. The issue wasn't whether it would be possible to buy an iPhone without Apple's Safari browser. It was that no other browser would be permitted—or, if permitted, it would be only through Apple's ongoing sufferance. And every app sold for the iPhone would have 30 percent of its price (and later, that of its "in-app purchases") go to Apple. Famously proprietary Microsoft never dared to extract a tax on every piece of software written by others for Windows—perhaps because, in the absence of consistent Internet access in the 1990s through which to manage purchases and licenses, there'd be no realistic way to make it happen.

Fast forward 15 years, and that's just what Apple did with its iOS App Store.

by Jonathan Zittrain, MIT |  Continue reading:
Image:  Wikipedia



Nick pulled Olivia’s arm over his shoulder as she stood. She had stubbed her toe during the hike they took that morning. He set her into the side opening of the Teardrop.

‘I know it’s a little early to hit the hay, but the outdoors wears me out.’ She took the mug of cowboy coffee he handed her. Her nightcap. Caffeine was nothing to her. After learning to sleep through prison nights, nothing could keep her awake. She gave him a pinch under his ribs. Olivia dispensed affection in athletic gestures – arm punches, noogies, little flicks of a damp towel in the bathroom – as though they were teammates rather than husband and wife.

‘I’m just going to hang out up here.’ He hoisted himself past her, up onto the roof of the trailer. ‘Like Snoopy.’ He loved this – lying on top of the camper, looking through his very old Nikon binoculars, the ridges on the focus wheel nearly worn away from a million rubs of his forefinger. He could watch the lazy way he did when he first noticed stars, before he saw them up close through a Newtonian reflector, or read them by their radio waves, before he knew their chemical composition, the weight and age of their gases, the rate at which they were burning themselves up – back when they still held a blinky mystery.

He read the heavens like a worn page of a favourite book. He picked out constellations of the summer northern sky – Scorpius, Hercules with its brilliant star Vega, the harder-to-find Corona Borealis. Arcturus, a showman star, burning its heart out. And even though he knew better, knew that what he saw was still roiling and burning and exploding and being born, also dying an icy death, he could still calm himself by doing this sort of casual Boy Scout survey, finding everything superficially, temporarily in place.

His early stargazing had evolved into a narrowed vision that was his strong suit in the groves of astronomy. Although he could construct a decent equation, map out the Doppler shift of a star’s spectra to calculate its mass – that sort of thing – his real talent lay in being an astronomer rather than a physicist. He could look through a telescope, or read a radio image and see something others had missed, particularly what hid within the shadows of stars. He read the heavens like a worn page of a favourite book. This had put him on the receiving end of a lot of material, stuff that had stumped someone and someone else, who then, as a last-ditch gesture, fielded it off to Nick. This ability allowed him, in spite of a spotty attendance record and a few unfortunate incidents at school social occasions, to still occupy a place in the scientific academy. He would never get tenure. He’d run off the rails of that track. He had his doctorate now, but his recommendation letters overflowed with faint praise, and held between their lines warnings about his unreliability, his unpredictable behavior. He wouldn’t get an important job anywhere, ever. They kept him on part time down at the University of California. He might turn out to be a credit to them. In the meantime, they let him teach a basic astronomy course every semester, kept an eye on his student evaluations.

Nobody else wanted him. He was too much trouble. But a lot of people wanted his findings, that was what kept him on the game board. Recently he had scored a succession of grants to go down to Arecibo, the big dish radio scope in Puerto Rico. At the moment he could find what he needed through radio waves. But optical astronomy was still a big player, and poised for huge discoveries. Next year, 1993, NASA was launching a telescope – Hubble – that would linger in space, clicking away, capturing pictures not blurred by the earth’s atmosphere, and then the whole of cosmology would probably break wide open. It was a great time to be looking around, but also – for Nick – a little spooky. Like being the first people to stick their toes in a deep and unknown lake of water that was purple, or peach.

And now he didn’t have drugs to buffer this anxiety. Now he had to fall back on carpentry and Olivia as his calming forces. He was a married man now, half of a two-income couple. He worked construction four days a week, taught one day. She cut hair at a neighbourhood beauty shop and had a good base of clients. She made decent money. They owned a condo on Addison, near the lake. He drove an Impala that was only two years old. He was getting extremely close to respectability. He had Olivia to thank for this.

by Carol Anshaw, Granta |  Continue reading:
Photo: Rock Mixer

Job Announcement

James Everbag Two Rabbits 1926

The Sex Addiction Hype

The Newsweek cover model’s bare shoulders and protruding clavicles seem to signal weakness, vulnerability, illness. She’s captured turning away from the camera and a pull-quote is stamped across her head: “I lost two marriages and a job. I ended up homeless. I was totally out of control.” The all-caps headline dramatically spells out her troubles: “THE SEX ADDICTION EPIDEMIC.”

The sexy alarmism of Newsweek’s latest cover story is irresistible — but it should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Mental health experts haven’t come to the consensus that sex addiction even exists, let alone that it’s an epidemic. The cultural phenomenon of sex addiction, which I first wrote about in 2009, is just that: A cultural phenomenon, not a legitimate medical diagnosis, and the release this week of the much buzzed-about “Shame,” a sex-addiction drama starring Michael Fassbender, further secures the concept’s place in the zeitgeist. Never mind that it was rejected from the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry’s bible.

Supporters of the sex-addiction paradigm will point to the current umbrella category of “Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified,” which recognizes “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers” — but the term “sex addiction” is unscientifically applied to a vastly greater range of behaviors, including subjectively excessive masturbation and porn-viewing. An entry on “hypersexual disorder” is being considered for the DSM revision — for the appendix — but it’s important to note that the concept of sex addiction is but one approach to conceptualizing and treating hypersexuality.

In the interest of countering the Newsweek narrative, I gave clinical psychologist David Ley a call. I figured he might have a thing or two to say on the topic, given that for the past year he’s been working on the upcoming book “The Myth of Sex Addiction” — and did he ever.

by Tracy Clark-Florey, Salon |  Continue reading:
Photo:  Newsweek/Salon

It Could Be Old Age, or It Could Be Low B12

Ilsa Katz was 85 when her daughter, Vivian Atkins, first noticed that her mother was becoming increasingly confused.

“She couldn’t remember names, where she’d been or what she’d done that day,” Ms. Atkins recalled in an interview. “Initially, I was not too worried. I thought it was part of normal aging. But over time, the confusion and memory problems became more severe and more frequent.”

Her mother couldn’t remember the names of close relatives or what day it was. She thought she was going to work or needed to go downtown, which she never did. And she was often agitated.

A workup at a memory clinic resulted in a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease, and Ms. Katz was prescribed Aricept, which Ms. Atkins said seemed to make matters worse. But the clinic also tested Ms. Katz’s blood level of vitamin B12. It was well below normal, and her doctor thought that could be contributing to her symptoms. (...)

B12 is an essential vitamin with roles throughout the body. It is needed for the development and maintenance of a healthy nervous system, the production of DNA and formation of red blood cells.

A severe B12 deficiency results in anemia, which can be picked up by an ordinary blood test. But the less dramatic symptoms of a B12 deficiency may include muscle weakness, fatigue, shakiness, unsteady gait, incontinence, low blood pressure, depression and other mood disorders, and cognitive problems like poor memory. (...)

In its natural form, B12 is present in significant amounts only in animal foods, most prominently in liver (83 micrograms in a 3.5-ounce serving). Good food sources include other red meats, turkey, fish and shellfish. Lesser amounts of the vitamin are present in dairy products, eggs and chicken.

by Jane E. Brody, NY Times |  Continue reading:
Illustration: Yvetta Fedorova

What's a Swap Line?

[ed.  Article from Sept. 2008 explaining swap lines, the transactions that are central to the coordinated efforts lifting markets today (along with China's easing of reserve ratios).  Other than noting the date of this article and reflecting on how well this worked out last time, what is this likely to accomplish?  Hard to say, it will certainly inject more dollars into the Eurozone and increase liquidity thereby (hopefully) freeing up lending, but the problem is not so much liquidity as debt, and possible insolvency.  Lack of liquidity is a function of a lender's concern about the ability of a borrower to pay back their loans.  So, has this changed anything?  Only that risk has now been transfered from individual banks to a new set of lenders - the Fed and Central banks around the world as they throw money at the crisis and hope something sticks.  At least that's my take on it.  We're still very far from seeing the edge of the woods, let alone being out of it.]


This morning the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) authorized a $180 billion expansion of its temporary reciprocal currency arrangements (swap lines). According to the Fed’s press release, the changes allow for “increases in the existing swap lines with the ECB and the Swiss National Bank” and for “new swap facilities…with the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Canada.”

“These measures…are designed to improve the liquidity conditions in global financial markets,” the release continued.

What did the Fed do and how will this action address some of the strain in liquidity conditions that recently have emerged?

A good place to start is by looking at what, exactly, a currency swap line is. A currency swap is a transaction where two parties exchange an agreed amount of two currencies while at the same time agreeing to unwind the currency exchange at a future date.

Consider this example. Today the Fed initiated a $40 billion swap line with the Bank of England (BOE), meaning that the BOE will receive $40 billion U.S. dollars and the Fed will receive an implied £22 billion (using yesterday’s USD/GBP exchange rate of 1.8173).

Currency Swap:
Figure 1

An underlying aspect of a currency swap is that banks (and businesses) around the world have assets and liabilities not only in their home currency, but also in dollars. Thus, banks in England need funding in U.S. dollars as well as in pounds.

by Mike Hammill, Federal Reserve Bank Atlanta (2008) |  Continue reading:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Current Events: National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

[ed. Yeah, because Guantanamo worked out so well.  And Manzanar.  For background on this egregious bill read this.  I don't know how Congress found the time to divert their attention from pimping copyright law in favor of media conglomerates, but I'm beginning to believe EVERYTHING they do will always end up worse than the status quo (which is already bad, for the same reason).]

Today, the Senate voted 37-61 to reject an important amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have removed harmful provisions authorizing the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world [ed. including America]. The amendment offered by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), would have replaced those provisions with a requirement for an orderly congressional review of detention power.

The Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI and the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA are harmful and counterproductive, and the White House has issued a veto threat over the provisions. We’re disappointed that, despite robust opposition to the harmful detention legislation from virtually the entire national security leadership of the government, the Senate said ‘no’ to the Udall amendment and ‘yes’ to indefinite detention without charge or trial.

The next opportunity to remove the harmful detention provisions from the bill will be when House and Senate conferees meet in conference committee next week.

If the conference committee fails to remove the detention provisions, President Obama should follow through with his veto threat. Today’s vote on the Udall amendment shows there’s more than enough opposition to these provisions to sustain a veto. Stay tuned for more information.

by Ategah Khaki, ACLU

[ed.  Oh man, I would love to have a pair of these.  Especially if they were like real bamboo or something, and didn't cost more than $11.95.  Sunglasses and hats, my weaknesses (I don't look good in either, but keep hoping).]

The FBI Plot Against "Louie Louie"

In the winter of 1963-64, a team of FBI agents spent their days hunched over portable record players, struggling to decode a message that threatened the morality of America’s youth. It wasn’t from the Russians or Castro, but a band of white-bread Portland teenagers called The Kingsmen.

“J. Edgar Hoover felt we were corrupting the moral fiber of America’s youth,” Mike Mitchell, guitarist and founding member of The Kingsmen, tells me. “The FBI guys came to our shows, and they’d stand next to the speakers to see if we were singing anything off-color. It was a different time.”

“’Louie Louie’ was kept out of the Number One spot on the charts by the Singing Nun,” recalls Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci. “That ought to tell you the mentality of the country back then. I thought, ‘Gee, I know the lyrics. What’s the deal?’ It never occurred to me how repressed teenagers were sexually. They were hearing all this stuff in the song. That was the state of America. The genie was getting out of the bottle.”

by Bill DeMain, Mental Floss |  Continue reading:

The Inventor in Hollywood

Imagine that, on Sept. 12, 2001, an outraged Angelina Jolie had pulled out a pad of paper and some drafting tools and, all on her own, designed a sophisticated new missile system to attack al-Qaida. Now imagine that the design proved so innovative that it transcended weapons technology, and sparked a revolution in communications technology over the next half-century.

Believe it or not, this essentially happened to Hedy Lamarr. Often proclaimed “the most beautiful woman in the world,” the 26-year-old Lamarr was thriving in Hollywood when, in mid-September 1940, Nazi U-boats hunted down and sank a cruise ship trying to evacuate 90 British schoolchildren to Canada. Seventy-seven drowned in the bleak north Atlantic. Lamarr, a Jewish immigrant from Nazi-occupied Austria, was horrified. She decided to fight back, but instead of the usual celebrity posturing, she sat down at a drafting table at home and sketched out a revolutionary radio guidance system for anti-submarine torpedoes.

This unlikely tale is the subject of Richard Rhodes’ new book, Hedy’s Folly. Compared to his other works, like the magisterial (and quite hefty) The Making of the Atomic Bomb, this book breezes by in 272 chatty pages. Rhodes succeeds in the most vital thing—capturing the spirit of a willful woman who wanted recognition for more than her pretty face—but he skims over the deeper questions that Lamarr’s life story raises about the nature of creative genius.

by Sam Kean, Slate |  Continue reading:
Photograph courtesy the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The Xinjiang Procedure

Beijing's 'New Frontier' is ground zero for the organ harvesting of political prisoners.

To figure out what is taking place today in a closed society such as northwest China, sometimes you have to go back a decade, sometimes more.

Photo of Chinese Flag with surgical stitches in itOne clue might be found on a hilltop near southern Guangzhou, on a partly cloudy autumn day in 1991. A small medical team and a young doctor starting a practice in internal medicine had driven up from Sun Yat-sen Medical University in a van modified for surgery. Pulling in on bulldozed earth, they found a small fleet of similar vehicles—clean, white, with smoked glass windows and prominent red crosses on the side. The police had ordered the medical team to stay inside for their safety. Indeed, the view from the side window of lines of ditches—some filled in, others freshly dug—suggested that the hilltop had served as a killing ground for years.

Thirty-six scheduled executions would translate into 72 kidneys and corneas divided among the regional hospitals. Every van contained surgeons who could work fast: 15-30 minutes to extract. Drive back to the hospital. Transplant within six hours. Nothing fancy or experimental; execution would probably ruin the heart.
With the acceleration of Chinese medical expertise over the last decade, organs once considered scraps no longer went to waste. It wasn’t public knowledge exactly, but Chinese medical schools taught that many otherwise wicked criminals volunteered their organs as a final penance.

Right after the first shots the van door was thrust open and two men with white surgical coats thrown over their uniforms carried a body in, the head and feet still twitching slightly. The young doctor noted that the wound was on the right side of the chest as he had expected. When body #3 was laid down, he went to work.

by Ethan Gutmann, Weekly Standard |  Continue reading:

Moon at Matsushima
by Kawase Hasui, 1930

Google Search Secrets

[ed.  Great resource, if I could just remember all these tricks.  Large infographic after the jump.]

Among certain circles (my family, some of my coworkers, etc.) I’m known for my Googling skills. I can find anything, anywhere, in no time flat. My Google-fu is a helpful skill, but not one that’s shrouded in too much mystery — I’ve just mastered some very helpful search tricks and shortcuts and learned to quickly identify the best info in a list of results.

Sadly, though web searches have become and integral part of the academic research landscape, the art of the Google search is an increasingly lost one. A recent study at Illinois Wesleyan University found that fewer than 25% of students could perform a “reasonably well-executed search.” Wrote researchers, “The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process.”

That search process also included determining when to rely on Google and when to utilize scholarly databases, but on a fundamental level, it appears that many people just don’t understand how to best find the information they seek using Google.

Thanks to the folks at HackCollege, a number of my “secrets” are out. The infographic below offers a helpful primer for how to best structure searches using advanced operators to more quickly and accurately drill down to the information you want. This is by no means an exhaustive list of search operators and advanced techniques, but it’s a good start that will help set you on the path to becoming a Google master.

by Josh Catone, Mashable |  Continue reading:

Casanova's Memoirs

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was a gambler, swindler, diplomat, lawyer, soldier, alchemist, violinist, traveler, pleasure seeker and serial seducer.

He was also a prolific writer who documented his adventures and love affairs in a steamy memoir that is one of the literary treasures of the 18th century.

Born in Venice, he considered France his adopted country but was forced to flee Paris in 1760 after seducing the wives and daughters of important subjects of King Louis XV and cheating them out of their money.

Now Casanova is back in France, celebrated by the French state. The original manuscript of his memoirs, “The Story of My Life,” and other writings of his are on display for the first time at the National Library of France in the exhibition “Casanova — The Passion for Freedom.” He is even being called a feminist.

The story of how more than 3,700 pages of Casanova’s papers ended up in one of France’s most prestigious and proper institutions is one that Casanova himself would have loved.

He wrote the memoirs in the last years of his life. Just before his death at 73 in Bohemia in 1798, he bequeathed his papers to his nephew. In 1821 Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, one of Germany’s most prominent publishers, acquired them from the nephew’s descendants. It was assumed in literary circles that the documents had been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in World War II. But they were carried on a bike and hidden in a bank vault in Leipzig. An American military truck drove them to safety in Wiesbaden.

by Elaine Sciolino, NY Times |  Continue reading:
Photo: Emmanuel Ngyen Ngoc/Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Current Events: European Debt Crisis 'Metastasizing'

The three main gauges – M1, M2, and M3 – have each begun to decline in absolute terms after slowing sharply over the Autumn.

The broad M3 measure tracked closely by the European Central Bank as an early warning indicator shrank last month by €59bn to €9.78 trillion, a sign that Europe's long-feared credit squeeze is underway as banks retrench to meet tougher capital requirements.

"This is very worrying," said Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. "What it shows is that the implosion of the banking system on the periphery is now outweighing any growth left in the core. We are seeing the destruction of money and it is a clear warning of serious trouble over the next six months."

"This is the first sign of an emerging credit crunch," said James Nixon from Societe Generale. Banks cut their balance sheets by €79bn in October, while mortage lending saw the biggest drop since December 2008.

Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors said "narrow" M1 money – which includes cash and overnight deposits, and signals short-term spending plans – shows an alarming split between North and South.  (...)
The grim monetary data came as Moody's warned that Euroland's crisis is metastasising, with risks of a chain of sovereign bankruptcies unless Europe "acts quickly" to stop the rot. "The probability of multiple defaults by euro area countries is no longer negligible."

The agency said defaults would threaten to break up the euro itself. "Any multi-exit scenario would have negative repercussions for the credit standing of all euro area and EU sovereigns."

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph |  Continue reading:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leo Kottke

Paris (Paris) on Flickr by JulienB.


Alone at the Movies

For a year or two during the mid-1970s, living in New York, I was a moviegoer. I was in my early 20s then, working off and on, driving a cab, setting up the stage at rock shows, writing occasional pieces for The Village Voice. But there were also long empty spells. I tried to write some fiction and couldn’t, tried to read and could—but only for so long. I ended up going to the movies.

It was the right decade to be doing that. Martin Scorsese made Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Taxi Driver; Paul Schrader wrote and directed Blue Collar; and Robert Altman directed Brewster McCloud, The Long Goodbye, California Split, and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The Godfather, both I and II, were news then. Woody Allen seemed to be bringing out something good every six months.

I can’t really tell you whether these movies summarized a national mood, but they summarized some moods of mine. Almost all of the movies conveyed a feeling of missed opportunities, of having been tossed out of the garden just before you came to know you’d been living in one. The only paradises, we’re told, are lost paradises, and I had recently left a couple of them. I’d made the mistake of graduating from the small, hyperexpensive college in Vermont that I’d attended on a massive scholarship. Bennington was full of gorgeous, smart, tightly wound women, in the proportion of three to every one male; the teachers were surpassingly hip; the Vermont green was seven versions of pastoral. Most of the students were rich—rich and a little loopy. Many were the youngest children of prosperous, prominent parents. But the kids often had been ignored by mom and dad, who were absorbed in making their dutiful ways through Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex (second cousin to The Joy of Cooking) with each other and with neighbors and friends, praying that they hadn’t missed all the rapture that the ’60s had had to dispense.

My roommate spent eight years or so at Bennington. He tried six majors, including, if memory serves, musical instrument design. He formed close if temporary conjunctions with many women, among them a princess and a U.S. president’s great-grand niece (one of the solemn, whiskery Ohio presidents, alas). Everyone at Bennington was a show; my roommate was a little more brightly lit and cunningly miked, that’s all. When it became clear that I was voluntarily leaving this earthly paradise after only four years, he wrote me off as mentally ill.

People who need movies, the true moviegoers, go in the afternoon; matinees are therapy for those who can’t afford therapists or don’t know that they should get one. Scraping down the pavement in Manhattan on my way to a matinee, I had to admit that my Bennington roommate probably had it right. New York sent many signs to a young man—it was an empire of signs, to cop a phrase—but one message blared through and over all the rest: This city (state, country, world, cosmos) does not require you at all. No provisions have been made. There is no slot. You’ll have to force your way in, on the off chance that you can get in at all. I sometimes thought, then, of a poem by Stephen Crane that I’d come upon in junior high.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

I occasionally thought too of a line that I’d fetched from the commonplace books my roommate crammed with quotations to speed him on his way through life: “If nothing comes, then nothing comes. This isn’t exactly the enchanted forest.” Which was true enough: in the mid-1970s, New York, especially up in Washington Heights, the decayed neighborhood where I lived, was emphatically not the enchanted forest.

One gets used to having a slot, however meager. For 16 years there had been a seat reserved for one M. Edmundson at some center of higher or lower learning. Mark E., who sat behind Kevin Donahue and in front of Joan Ehlrich at Medford High, was present or he was absent. Absence mattered. Inquiries would be made. Now there was neither presence nor absence. There was zip. I had nursed hopes, as the poet says, that pointed to the stars. Now I was a walking superfluity, a flea on New York’s shaggy, often rank-smelling coat.

by Mark Edmundson, American Scholar |  Continue reading: 
Photo:  thisisnthappiness

Valerius De Saedeleer, Belgian, 1867-1942
Winter landscape 1931

Daily Routines

[ed. From Daily Routines. How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days. For example, Winston Churchill (below) and Benjamin Franklin.]

Winston Churchill

Despite all this activity Churchill’s daily routine changed little during these years. He awoke about 7:30 a.m. and remained in bed for a substantial breakfast and reading of mail and all the national newspapers. For the next couple of hours, still in bed, he worked, dictating to his secretaries.

At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.

At 1:00 p.m. he joined guests and family for a three-course lunch. Clementine drank claret, Winston champagne, preferable Pol Roger served at a specific temperature, port brandy and cigars. When lunch ended, about 3:30 p.m. he returned to his study to work, or supervised work on his estate, or played cards or backgammon with Clementine.

At 5:00 p.m., after another weak whisky and soda, he went to be for an hour and a half. He said this siesta, a habit gained in Cuba, allowed him to work 1 1/2 days in every 24 hours. At 6:30 p.m. he awoke, bathed again, and dressed for dinner at 8:00 p.m.

Dinner was the focal-point and highlight of Churchill’s day. Table talk, dominated by Churchill, was as important as the meal. Sometimes, depending on the company, drinks and cigars extended the event well past midnight. The guests retired, Churchill returned to his study for another hour or so of work.


All The Angry People

[ed.  On the ground snapshot of the OWS movement through the eyes of Ray Kachel, a supporter who traveled from Seattle to New York City to participate. Also this from John Heilemann. Both are excellent reads.]

Zuccotti Park—or Liberty Square, as its occupiers called it—takes up a small rectangular block in the financial district, shadowed by skyscrapers, just east of the World Trade Center site. When Kachel arrived, the leaves on the park’s fifty-five honey-locust trees were still green. Tents were forbidden by the city, and the overnight occupiers had to lay blue tarps on unforgiving granite.

At the west end of the park, a drum circle rolled out a wild, interminable beat, adrenaline for the occupiers and annoyance for the neighbors. The drummers’ area, called “the ghetto,” was made up of hard-core anarchists and long-term homeless people, a world unto itself, where interlopers were made to feel unwelcome. The center of the park was crowded with various hubs dedicated to the occupation’s self-organization: the kitchen tarp, where food prepared on the outside and delivered was served to anyone who lined up; the comfort station, where occupiers could obtain donated wet wipes, toiletries, and articles of clothing; the recycling site, where protesters composted food waste and took turns pedalling a stationary bike to generate battery power; the library, with several thousand volumes stacked high on tables; the open-air studio, where computers and cameras streamed live footage of the occupation twenty-four hours a day.

At the east end of the park, along the wide sidewalk next to Broadway, beneath a sculpture of soaring red steel beams called “Joie de Vivre,” the occupation and the public merged. Demonstrators stood in a row, displaying signs as if hawking wares, while workers on their lunch hour and tourists and passersby stopped to look, take pictures, talk, argue. An elderly woman sat in a chair and read aloud from Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.” Another woman stood silently while holding up a copy of Ron Suskind’s “Confidence Men”—day after day. An old man in a sports coat and golf cap: “For: Regulated Capitalism. Against: Obscene Inequality. Needed: Massive Jobs Program.” A union electrician in a hard hat: “Occupy Wall Street. Do It for Your Kids.” A woman in a blue nurse’s smock: “This R.N. Is Sickened by Wall Street Greed. Trust Has Been Broken.” A young woman in jeans: “Where Did My Future Go? Greed Took It.” The crowd was dense, the talk overlapping.

Kachel, exhausted from his cross-country trip, was overwhelmed by the pandemonium. He could barely sleep, as the only bedding he had was a thermal wrap made of Mylar. At one point, someone told him that a shower could be arranged at the comfort station. When he arrived, there was no shower to be had, and suddenly he was confronted with the fact of being broke and homeless in a strange city. He withdrew into himself, curling up to sleep in his fleece and waterproof shell on the steps near the east side of the park.

One day, Kachel overheard a group of young occupiers, who were sitting on the steps just a few feet away, talking about him as if he weren’t there. “He’s not going to make it here doing that,” one of them said. “He isn’t taking care of himself.” They were right—his socks and shoes, drenched in a rainstorm, had been wet for several days. Kachel saw that he couldn’t survive in the park alone. He had to become part of the collective in an unreserved way—something that he’d never done.

He volunteered for the newly formed Sanitation Working Group. To keep warm after dark, he spent part of each night scrubbing the paths and the sidewalks. Another occupier, seeing Kachel working, gave him a sleeping bag and a tarp. Kachel began making friends: Sean, an Irish immigrant from the Bronx who worked the graveyard shift spraying fire retardant on steel, then came downtown to spend his days at Zuccotti; a homeless substitute teacher with a degree in physics; Chris, a drifter from Tarpon Springs, Florida, who had been so outraged by a YouTube video of a New York City police officer squirting women protesters in the face with pepper spray that he had ridden the rails to Manhattan in order to defend female honor. (...)

So he didn’t panic when, one rain-swept night, his duffel was stolen as he slept, and water entered the tarp in which he was rolled up, soaking his sleeping bag, and he stayed calm when his daypack—including the portable hard drive—was taken away the next morning by zealous members of the Sanitation Working Group who were clearing out waterlogged objects, leaving Kachel with nothing but the clothes he had on. He simply turned to his new friends for help, and was given a dry sleeping bag. By then, he belonged to the occupation. Liberty Square was his home.

by George Packer, New Yorker |  Continue reading:
Photo: Wayne Lawrence

Small Plates

Welcome. Have you eaten with us before? We do things a little differently here. All our entrees are what we call “small plates,” which means that the portions are slightly... smaller than you’re used to, and come on serving vessels that can be accurately described as being both “small” and “plates.”

We think it’s a fun way to get you to order something that you wouldn’t usually order: everything on the menu. We recommend you each order six dishes; or 10 dishes if you are very hungry; or an endless stream if you’re looking to fill the shank of your evening.

How small are we talking? The Octopus Plate is not a whole tentacle, but one sucker off of one tentacle: it looks like a diaphragm for a mouse, or a dollhouse bathroom’s wash basin, or a calcified contact lens. It’s my favorite thing on the menu. The Micro-Toasts would fit on the head of a pin; Two Grains of Rice is a very generous term for what is, at heart, cellular. The Three Strands of Spaghettini is DNA.

Shall I give you a minute?

How did we do? Have we made some choices? Excellent. The octopus is a great choice, a great choice. The Fennel Pollen: also great. Just so you know, though, that one is especially small: a member of our waitstaff will come and spray .00005 milligrams of fennel pollen into the air, and then encourage you to walk into its cloud while a light breeze from an overhead fan blows the cloud toward the back of the restaurant in the direction of the parking lot. It’s my second favorite thing on the menu.

by Henry Alford, NY Times |  Continue reading:

Review: The Descendants

In the course of (what passes for) my “career” as a movie critic, I have avowed to avoid the trite phrase “heartwarming family film” as a descriptive. Well, so much for principles. The Descendants is a heartwarming family film. There, I said it. Now, let me qualify that. Since it is directed by Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways ) it is not a typical heartwarming family film. It is a heartwarming family film riddled with dysfunction and middle-aged angst (which is how I prefer my heartwarming family films, thank you very much). Think of it as Terms of Endearment goes Hawaiian.

Despite the lush and verdant tropical setting for his tale, Payne wastes no time clueing us in that there is trouble in Paradise. People who live in Hawaii get cancer, feel pain and generally encounter their own fair share of potholes as they caterwaul down the road of life, just like anyone else. That is the gist of an internal monologue that opens the film, delivered by its protagonist, Matt King (George Clooney), as he holds vigil in an ICU, where his wife (Patricia Hastie) lies in a coma, gravely injured from a water-skiing mishap off Waikiki. As he contemplates the maze of IV tubes and other apparatus keeping his wife alive, Matt, like anyone confronting the Abyss, begins taking inventory.

After all, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs? On the “up” side, Matt is financially set for life, as an heir to and executor for a sizable chunk of prime, undeveloped land on Kauai, held in a family trust (thanks to genuine Hawaiian royalty buried in the woodpile a ways back). On the “down” side, his workaholic tendencies have precipitated an emotional distance from his wife and two daughters in recent years. His 17-year old, the sullen and combative Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is away at boarding school; and precocious 10-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) is in hot water for antics like bringing photos of her comatose mother to school, and for cyber-bullying a classmate.

In the past, Matt’s wife has served as the buffer between him and this type of day-to-day daughterly drama, but now that she is indefinitely incapacitated, it’s all landed in his lap. He may be a respected pillar of the community and more than capable of running his own law office, but now finds himself akin to the proverbial deer in the headlights. After awkwardly putting out Scottie’s fires, Matt decides that he will need to enlist the assistance of her older sister for riot control. Besides, he figures it would be best to keep both of his girls close by, should the worst happen. As if this weren’t enough on his plate, Matt is also up against a pending deadline to sell the family’s land to a real estate developer. He is being egged on by a sizable coterie of cousins who (a couple anti-development dissenters aside) are eager to milk this potential cash cow for all its worth.

Then, the real bombshell gets dropped on Matt’s head. The bombardiers are his daughters, who let it slip that, completely unbeknownst to Dad, Mom has been getting a little action on the side as of late, with a younger man (Matthew Lillard). And he’s a real estate agent, no less (shades of American Beauty). Poor Matt. He’s no sooner steeled himself for the looming possibility of becoming a grieving widower who must stay strong for his kids, than he instead finds himself suffering the confounded humiliation of a blindsided cuckold…as they look on. Flummoxed, Matt demands confirmation from his wife’s friends, who fess up. Although he has no real idea what he wants to say (or do) to him, Matt nonetheless decides that he must track down his wife’s lover (it’s a guy thing). With Scottie, Alexandra and her boyfriend (Nick Krause) in tow, he embarks on the Alexander Payne Road Trip, which in this case involves taking a puddle jumper to Kauai.

While the setup may feel somewhat familiar (like the aforementioned American Beauty meets Little Miss Sunshine ), or even rote, in Payne’s hands it is anything but. Yes, on one level it’s another soaper about a middle-aged male heading for a meltdown, but every time you think you’ve got it sussed, Payne keeps pitching curve balls. His script (which he co-adapted with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings) consistently hits the sweet spot between comedy and drama, giving us characters who, in spite of (or perhaps, due to) their contradictions and flaws, are people to whom we can all easily relate to. The film also showcases Clooney’s best work in years; it’s the closest he has come thus far to proving that he may indeed be this generation’s Cary Grant, after all.

This is one of the first true knockouts on the autumn release calendar, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. There are many reasons to recommend it, not the least of which is a bevy of fine performances from the entire cast. Lillard shows surprising depth, and it’s a hoot to watch veteran character actors like Robert Forster and Beau Bridges doing that voodoo that they do so well. I also like the way Payne subtly utilizes the Hawaiian landscapes like another character in the story, much in the same manner he employed the California wine country milieu in Sideways. After all, it is only when human beings are set against the simple perfection of an orchid or a grape that we are truly exposed as the silly, needlessly self-absorbed and ultimately inconsequential creatures that we really are.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Diane Birch, Daryl Hall

Bendy Elbows

Isn’t it horribly sad when you reach the bottom of the wine bottle only to simultaneously discover that your “wine cellar” (ie. your counter top) is bare. Bone dry. Finito. Dunzo. Emptier than a banker’s heart (buuuuuurn. no seriously. burn.) Isn’t it?!!?!?!?
Pepperwood Grove Syrah ($5.99) gives off aromas of pepper, and I know because I took large whiffs of the pepper from those little white packets that used to accompany my tray lunch at school making me an expert on pepper aromas. Pairs well with salt…y foods.

Isn’t it horribly sad when you reach the bottom of the wine bottle only to simultaneously discover that your “wine cellar” (ie. your counter top) is bare. Bone dry. Finito. Dunzo. Emptier than a banker’s heart (buuuuuurn. no seriously. burn.) Isn’t it?!!?!?!?

Pepperwood Grove Syrah ($5.99) gives off aromas of pepper, and I know because I took large whiffs of the pepper from those little white packets that used to accompany my tray lunch at school making me an expert on pepper aromas. Pairs well with salt…y foods.

via:  The Third Bottle
* Bendy Elbows - a great phrase from the Awl.

Harnessing the Untapped Energy in Water Pipes

Water is often stored high above the city that consumes it. To reach its destination, water travels through a system of gradually shrinking pipes until it comes out the faucet. As the water travels, excess pressure gathers in the pipes, which is dissipated by pressure valves. All that built-up energy leaves the system, wasted.

This type of energy waste is hard to design away. Some water systems are so old they still have hollowed-out cedar logs as pipes. And huge numbers of people depend on the systems continuing to function without a break. So rather than figuring out ways not to waste energy, it's easier to harness and repurpose it. Rentricity, an energy company based in New York City, is doing exactly that by creating electricity from excess pressure in water pipes.

Frank Zammataro, Rentricity’s president, learned about the inefficiencies of municipal water systems after he spent too many hours thinking about a New York City water tower. In 2001, he and his colleagues looked down from their 40th floor Midtown office on the building below and joked about how every time someone flushed on the first floor, water had to travel from the tower on top of the building all the way down. Someone, they thought, ought to put in a wheel in the pipe to capture that squandered energy.

Zammataro took the idea seriously enough that he scheduled a visit to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York to investigate further. The professors told him that a single building didn’t have enough sustainable flow or pressure to make harvesting the energy practical. But one suggested he take a look at municipal water systems and the points where they regulate pressure in the pipelines.

Rentricity takes the energy from those points in a water system and uses it to turn a turbine, creating electricity. The system itself didn’t require any breakthrough technology: the company’s primary innovation was recognizing that a valuable resource was being thrown away. “We applied the technology in a unique way and in a unique place,” says Zammataro. “We're not innovating at a turbine level.”

by Sarah Laskow, Good |  Continue reading:
Photo via (cc) Flickr user CarbonNYC

The Era of Small and Many

Earlier this year, my state’s governor asked if I’d give an after-lunch speech to some of his cabinet and other top officials who were in the middle of a retreat. It’s a useful discipline for writers and theorists to have to summarize books in half an hour, and to compete with excellent local ice cream. No use telling these guys how the world should be at some distant future moment when they’ll no longer be in office—instead, can you isolate themes broad enough to be of use to people working on subjects from food to energy to health care to banking to culture, and yet specific enough to help them choose among the options that politics daily throws up? Can you figure out a principle that might undergird a hundred different policies?

Or another way to say it: can you figure out which way history wants to head (since no politician can really fight the current) and suggest how we might surf that wave?

Here’s my answer: we’re moving, if we’re lucky, from the world of few and big to the world of small and many. We’ll either head there purposefully or we’ll be dragged kicking, but we’ve reached one of those moments when tides reverse.

Take agriculture. For 150 years the number of farms in America has inexorably declined. In my state—the most rural in the nation—the number of dairies fell from 11,000 at the end of World War II to 998 this summer. And of course the farms that remained grew ever larger—factory farms, we called them, growing commodity food. Here in Vermont most of the remaining dairies are big, but not big enough to compete with the behemoths in California or Arizona; they operate so close to the margin that they can’t afford to hire local workers and instead import illegal migrants from Mexico.

But last year the USDA reported that the number of farms in America had actually increased for the first time in a century and a half. The most defining American demographic trend—the shift that had taken us from a nation of 50 percent farmers to less than 1 percent—had bottomed out and reversed. Farms are on the increase—small farms, mostly growing food for their neighbors. They’re not yet a threat to the profits of the Cargills and the ADMs, but you can see the emerging structure of a new agriculture composed of CSAs and farmers’ markets, with fewer middlemen. Which is all for the good. Such farming uses less energy and produces better food; it’s easier on the land; it offers rural communities a way out of terminal decline. You could even imagine a farmscape that stands some chance of dealing with the flood, drought, and heat that will be our destiny in the globally warmed century to come. Instead of the too-big-to-fail agribusiness model, this will be a nimbler, more diversified, sturdier agriculture.

And what works on the farm works elsewhere too. Think about our energy future—the phrase that engineers like to use now is “distributed generation.” Since our old fuels were dense in BTUs and concentrated in a few locations, it made sense to site a few giant generating stations where coal or uranium could easily be brought and burned. But the logic of sun and wind is exactly the opposite: millions of rooftops and ridgelines producing power. You can do it in cities as easily as in the country—new satellite and airplane mapping of New York City’s five boroughs showed that the city’s rooftops could provide half its electricity. If you can do that in New York, imagine Shaker Heights, not to mention Phoenix. And once you’ve done it, you’ve got something practical and local: an interconnected grid where everyone brings something and takes something away. A farmers’ market in electrons.

Many of us get a preview of life in the age of small and many when we sit down at our computers each day. Fifteen years ago we still depended on a handful of TV networks and newspaper conglomerates to define our world for us; now we have a farmers’ market in ideas. We all add to the flow with each Facebook post, and we can find almost infinite sources of information. It’s reshaping the way we see the world—not, of course, without some trauma (from the hours wasted answering e-mail to the death of too much good, old-school journalism). All these transitions will be traumatic to one extent or another, since they are so very big. We’re reversing the trend of generations.

by Bill McKibben, Orion |  Continue reading: 
Painting: Suzanne Stryk

What It Feels Like To Get A Tattoo Removed From Your Ass

There's a tattoo studio near my office called Skin Thrills. A sign out front advertises their special offers — $50 roses on Tuesdays, or $25 dollar kanji letters on Thursdays. As I drove past the sign last week, work was quickly driven out of my mind and replaced with two thoughts. One: I wonder what the kanji for "shrimp tempura" looks like. And two: I live in a tattoo-saturated nation.

What used to be a rite of passage reserved for sailors and circus troupes has exploded in the past half century, making the sharp transition from subversive act to fashion statement. In the over-forty crowd, men still bear most of the ink. For the generation to which I belong, neither gender, nor skin tone, nor profession of choice (come to think of it, a Caduceus tat would be pretty awesome) is off limits. I should know. I'm a member of tatted-up, twenty-n-change masses. But, in addition to belonging to that every-increasing minority, I also belong to a smaller rank and file that will undoubtedly come to grow along side the multiplying rates of tattoo-getters in my age bracket. I am, I admit with some ambivalence, one of the thousands of Americans who is undergoing the process of tattoo removal this year.

"Everyone thinks they're hot shit when they're sixteen, right?" I quipped to the laser technician the first time he examined the offending ink. I tried very hard to sound calm and nonchalant. I'm sure I failed. Hey, it's not easy to crack wise when you're half naked in the presence of a complete stranger, especially not when they ask you about the origin of the tattoo you're removing. Just two months before the start of my senior year of high school, my best friend du jour and I skipped merrily into the local tattoo parlor in downstate New York on a whim. We then proceeded to request –- wait for it, now –- matching tattoos. Matching. And it gets worse: we picked them off of a display on the wall. The cherry on top of this cupcake of a scenario? Our tattoo of choice actually was a pair of cherries. The end result was anything but badass. But it was bad. And it was definitely on my ass.

Long after my banal compatibility with the ink-bound BFF had dissolved (in retrospect, I guess a mutual fondness for Sour Cream n' Onion Pringles isn't the strongest of starting points for a lasting friendship), I was left with an indelible, faux-rockabilly stamp on my rump and a Thursday afternoon appointment with Danny Fowler, tattoo legend turned tattoo removal expert. The technology of choice, he assured me, had developed a sophisticated sensitivity to a wide range of colored inks in recent years. I am compelled to note that an increase in efficacy fails to correlate with a greater measure of delicacy.

by Gemma de Choisy, Jezebel |  Continue reading:
Image via Andy Nortnik/

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc ├ęclatant et saines, 2005.


[Siblings Angie (10), Gustavo (13) and Abelardo Vazquez (15) cover Adele's Rolling in the Deep (and do it very well).  Over 6 million YouTube hits in one week.]

Examining the Big Lie

It’s fair to say that our discussion about the big lie touched a nerve.

The big lie of the financial crisis, of course, is that troubling technique used to try to change the narrative history and shift blame from the bad ideas and terrible policies that created it.

Based on the scores of comments, people are clearly interested in understanding the causes of the economic disaster.

I want to move beyond what I call “the squishy narrative” — an imprecise, sloppy way to think about the world — toward a more rigorous form of analysis. Unlike other disciplines, economics looks at actual consequences in terms of real dollars. So let’s follow the money and see what the data reveal about the causes of the collapse.

Rather than attend a college-level seminar on the complex philosophy of causation, we’ll keep it simple. To assess how blameworthy any factor is regarding the cause of a subsequent event, consider whether that element was 1) proximate 2) statistically valid 3) necessary and sufficient.

Consider the causes cited by those who’ve taken up the big lie. Take for example New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement that it was Congress that forced banks to make ill-advised loans to people who could not afford them and defaulted in large numbers. He and others claim that caused the crisis. Others have suggested these were to blame: the home mortgage interest deduction, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the 1994 Housing and Urban Development memo, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and homeownership targets set by both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

When an economy booms or busts, money gets misspent, assets rise in prices, fortunes are made. Out of all that comes a set of easy-to-discern facts.

Here are key things we know based on data. Together, they present a series of tough hurdles for the big lie proponents.

by Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture |  Continue reading:
Illustration: Washington Post

License Plate Readers and Cell Phone Rippers

[ed. Civil liberties?  Oh yeah, those old things...yawn.  I'm sure authorities would never think of using the data inappropriately.]

Scores of cameras across the city capture 1,800 images a minute and download the information into a rapidly expanding archive that can pinpoint people’s movements all over town.  (...)

More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time, helping police pinpoint stolen cars and fleeing killers. But the program quietly has expanded beyond what anyone had imagined even a few years ago.

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the District, which has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well, and local agencies plan to add many more in coming months, creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District.  (...)

“That’s quite a large database of innocent people’s comings and goings,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty program. “The government has no business collecting that kind of information on people without a warrant.”

by  Allision Klein and Josh White, Washington Post | Continue reading:

A high-tech gadget that can quickly download information from a cellphone is at the center of a controversy that's pitting civil liberties advocates against state police in Michigan.

Since 2008, the ACLU of Michigan has been petitioning the Michigan State Police to turn over information about their use of so-called "data extraction devices" (or DEDs). Manufactured by Cellebrite, a mobile forensics and data services company headquartered in Israel, the devices can connect to cellphones and, even bypassing passwords, retrieve phone numbers, text messages, call history, photos and video.

On a "tip" that police had used a DED unlawfully, Moss said the ACLU filed its first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2008 to learn the policies and practices surrounding the extraction device.

The police did not offer answers. Instead, they told the ACLU it would need to pay more than $544,000 to retrieve the records and reports it had asked for. Over the past few years, Moss said the ACLU has tried to work with the police to narrow the request and lower the cost, but with little success.

by Ki Mae Heussner, ABC News | Continue reading:
Photos: James A. Parcell - For The Washington Post.  Cellbrite.

Zhou Hao, “No.174-f”, Drypoint


Libraries: Where It All Went Wrong

It was my pleasure to address the National and State Librarians of Australasia on the eve of their strategic planning meeting in Auckland at the start of November this year. I have been involved in libraries for a few years now, and am always humbled by the expertise, hard work, and dedication that librarians of all stripes have. Yet it’s no revelation that libraries aren’t the great sources of knowledge and information on the web that they were in the pre-Internet days. I wanted to push on that and challenge the National and State librarians to think better about the Internet.

I prefaced my talk by saying that none of this is original, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I merely wanted to bring the different strands together in a way that showed them how to think about the opportunities afforded to libraries for the digital age.  (...)

Bill Gates wrote a bestseller in 1995.  He was on a roll: Microsoft Windows had finally crushed its old foe the Macintosh computer from Apple, Microsoft was minting money hand over fist, and he was hugely respected in the industry he had helped start. He roped in other big brains from Microsoft to write a book to answer the question, “what next?”  The Road Ahead talked about the implications of everyone having a computer and how they would use the great Information Superhighway that was going to happen.

The World Wide Web appears in the index to The Road Ahead precisely four times.  Bill Gates didn’t think the Internet would be big.  The Information Superhighway of Gates’s fantasies would have more structure than the Internet, be better controlled than the Internet, in short it would be more the sort of thing that a company like Microsoft would make.

Bill Gates and Microsoft were caught flat-footed by the take-up of the Internet. They had built an incredibly profitable and strong company which treated computers as disconnected islands: Microsoft software ran on the computers, but didn’t help connect them.  Gates and Microsoft soon realized the Internet was here to stay and rushed to fix Windows to deal with it, but they never made up for that initial wrong-footing.

At least part of the reason for this was because they had this fantastic cash cow in Windows, the island software.  They were victims of what Clayton Christenson calls the Innovator’s Dilemma: they couldn’t think past their own successes to build the next big thing, the thing that’d eat their lunch.  They still haven’t got there: Bing, their rival to Google, has eaten $5.5B since 2009 and it isn’t profitable yet.

I’m telling you this because libraries are like Microsoft.

At one point you had a critical role: you were one of the few places to conduct research. When academics and the public needed to do research into the documentary record, they’d come to you. As you now know, that monopoly has been broken.

The Internet, led by Google, is the start and end of most people’s research. It’s good enough to meet their needs, which is great news for the casual researcher but bad news for you.

Now they don’t think of you at all.

by Nat Torkington | Continue reading: 
Photo:  David Lat

What’s in a Name? Ask Google

It’s the rare parent, it seems, who wants a common name for a child. New parents, after all, envision future presidents, Super Bowl winners and cancer curers, not Vatican streakers or college beer-bong guzzlers.

But maybe common names are more prudent. A recent study by the online security firm AVG found that 92 percent of children under 2 in the United States have some kind of online presence, whether a tagged photo, sonogram image or Facebook page. Life, it seems, begins not at birth but with online conception. And a child’s name is the link to that permanent record.

“When you name your baby, it’s a time of dreaming,” Ms. Wattenberg said. “No one stops and thinks, ‘What if one day my child does something embarrassing and wants to hide from it?’ ”

Maybe the wisest approach in our searchable new world is to let computers do the naming.

Lindsey Pollak, a writer on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who specializes in career advice, fancied the name Chloe when she was pregnant with her daughter. Her husband, Evan Gotlib, wanted Zoe.

To settle the feud, they downloaded a 99-cent iPhone app called Kick to Pick. After typing in the two names, they held the phone to Ms. Pollak’s stomach, as the phone alternated between the two. When the fetus kicked, the phone froze on one name, like a coin toss. It came up Chloe for each of the four tries.

The next thing Ms. Pollak did, of course, was to Google it. “One of the Web sites said Chloe means little green shoots, and we liked that,” Ms. Pollak said. Chloe it was. They even registered their unborn child’s first and last name as a domain name and signed her up on Tumblr, Twitter and G-mail.

The Kaslofskys wish they had had that foresight. When they Googled Kaleya in 2009, there were only a few relevant results. But since then, the parents of another child named Kaleya have started posting videos of that little girl’s adventures on YouTube, with titles like “Kaleya Makes a Snow Angel” and “Kaleya Runs From a Wave.”

Ms. Kaslofsky is miffed. “Things have changed in the last three years,” she said.

by  Allan Salkin, NY Times | Continue reading:
Illustration: Allison Seiffer