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.: April 2007 --> April 2007

April 2007

» I just like the idea of the The Modified Toy Orchestra. / (1) Comments / [ 04.02.07 ]

» Guy Dammann: Don't feel bad about abandoned books. His 3-step process for deciding on whether or not to read a book is similar to the "inspectional reading" outlined in the classic How to Read a Book.

From the reader comments, here is one of my favorites:

Squatting on my top shelf, 3 paperback volumes of the unabridged 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', about 1500 pages each, the first volume creased on its spine about a fifth of the way in, the rest of volume and the other two spines immaculate. A message screamed out to the perceptive observer, 'Here is a man who likes to be seen buying impressive books but whose pygmy intellect cannot cope with any book that hasn't had a murder and a rooftop chase by page 100'.

I've been making an effort in the last few years to read more of the "murder and a rooftop chase" type of book. For a while I got mired in a swamp of non-fiction, much of which only held my interest for the first few chapters. I finished all of those books, but it sure would take a long time. Initially, I thought it was because my interest in the subject was actually at the "long-article" level, but now I've developed a new theory.

Much of the highly-touted non-fiction of the last few years simply starts stronger than it finishes. Writers submit a book proposal and then just don't have enough ideas to fill their word count with interesting and relevant material. They end up padding. These books (sometimes based on a wildly-popular magazine article) become less and less substantial as they progress. The author has enough interesting material for a much shorter book, or a series of long articles, but not enough for the amount of material he has been paid to produce.

It's not that I don't like non-fiction. You can look at my book lists from the last few years and find non-fiction that I rave about. These are books that delivered from start to finish. Anything that has a notation to the effect that "there are some good ideas here" or "a little thin" probably suffers from the padding problem.

It dawned on me one day that reading had become drudgery—but in my childhood, I was an incredibly voracious reader. Was the problem me, or the books?

I decided it was time to apply a different filter to at least half of the books I read. Not, "Does this sound like an interesting and/or important topic?" but "Does this sound fun to read?" Using the library has helped me in this, allowing me to explore without spending money, and (theoretically) making it easier to just chuck a book if it's not living up to the "fun" standard (though I still have trouble putting down a book without finishing it).

In that spirit, here are two of my favorite reading links: The Reader's Bill of Rights and Marylaine's Books Too Good to Put Down. (via wl) / (6) Comments / [ 04.04.07 ]

» Easter brunch bunny bao (steamed buns). Not only are these the cutest brunch food ever, they can be made ahead and frozen!

Update: Keys to Bunny Bao Success  [ 04.05.07 ]

» I had never heard of the Overton Window, but I'm glad Rafe pointed me to this:

For a lot of reasons, not all of them bad, most people don’t like feeling like they’re disconnecting themselves from the majority of their fellow human beings... [F]or most people, being perceived as an eccentric outlier is something to be feared. This isn’t fundamentally because most people are corrupt, it’s fundamentally because most people are social animals, and feeling connected with the pack is critical to our sense of well-being. This is why “moving the goalposts” works, even when those doing so barely bother to conceal it.

This particular discussion focuses on politics (and that's important) but this is one of those ideas that will resonate in every aspect of your life: at work, when dealing with your kids, affecting social change, and so on. Read the whole thing. (via rc3)

Update: It dawned on me a few minutes ago when reading the Wikipedia entry that the Overton Window is related to my usual argument in favor of certain radical groups: they open up an avenue for discussion and consideration. People may reject PETA's premise, for example, that animals should never be used in testing of any kind. But in doing so, those same people may decide that—while medical testing on animals is acceptable—certain forms of testing on animals in the manufacture of cosmetics should be eliminated.

Come to think of it, I suppose this is the purpose Ann Coulter serves for the far right. She's so very extreme that almost anyone else appears to be reasonable by comparison. See? I told you this was an idea that kept on giving.

Update: Jason Kottke links to a good introduction to the Overton Window by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

A politician’s success or failure stems from how well they understand and amplify the ideas and ideals held by those who elected them. [...] Therefore, they will almost always constrain themselves to taking actions within the "window" of ideas approved of by the electorate. Actions outside of this window, while theoretically possible, and maybe more optimal in terms of sound policy, are politically unsuccessful.
[...] So, if a think tank’s research and the principles of sound policy suggest a particular idea that lies outside the Overton window, what is to be done? Shift the window.

/ (5) Comments / [ 04.05.07 ]

» 'In-your-face-food' a hit in Japan. Krispy Kreme, the McDonald's Mega Mac (4 patties!), and other high calorie foods are in such high demand that other American fast food companies are planning to expand into the market. I will say that I'm rather shocked to learn that a Krispy Kreme doughnut is 250 calories. (via jh)  [ 04.06.07 ]

» I have a predictable cycle with my blog reading. Every so often, I severely cull my list of reads in an attempt to regain some control of my time and brainspace. Then my list starts to slowly enlarge as I find and add terrific new blogs, or forgotten old favorites. After a while it's unmanageable again, and I remove half or a third and the cycle begins again.

So, I'm very dismayed to have re-discovered futurist (and WorldChanging co-founder) Jamais Cascio's blog Open the Future this weekend. So interesting—see if you don't become instantly addicted.

And, thanks to Waterboro Public Library Blog, I discovered a new one: Blogging for a Good Book, a blog by the Williamsburg Regional Library that features a book review a day. You can browse past entries by the categories listed in the sidebar and—how smart is this?—at the end of each book review, there is a link to the WRL catalog entry for that book. I've already added Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking to my Amazon wishlist.

Dear Everyone: Please stop creating compelling content. Much appreciated, thanks! / (3) Comments / [ 04.09.07 ]

» One day I would like to travel to Italy. And when I do, I would absolutely love to stay in a convent. / (1) Comments / [ 04.10.07 ]

» NYT: Damon Darlin has pulled together a nice summary of a few next-generation airline fare-comparison sites, including one site that is built on the idea that human beings—in this case, a staff of 5—are better at spotting the best deals than computers can be.  [ 04.10.07 ]

» I'm always surprised when a celebrity makes a racist slur of some kind and then apologizes in the face of all the outrage. Seriously. I don't know a single person who would use the language Don Imus did, or go on an anti-Semitic bender when they are drunk. It's not that I'm carefully selecting my acquaintances. I simply don't know people who talk that way.

And it's not that I live on the liberal West Coast, either. I grew up in a conservative home in the Midwest, and respect was one of our family values, as it was for the families who lived around us. No one I knew growing up, children or adults, talked that way. I would have been in huge trouble if I'd ever used a racial epithet.

So the controversy surrounding Imus puzzles me. He's too old to have his mouth washed out with soap. Fire him. / (9) Comments / [ 04.10.07 ]

» It's only April, but Publisher's Weekly has already posted their list of hot books for summer. And from it, I'm excited to learn that William Gibson has a book coming out this year! (via wl) / (1) Comments / [ 04.11.07 ]

» Menstruation questions outrage professional females in India. / (1) Comments / [ 04.11.07 ]

» William Hertling has come up with a terrific list of strategies for those who find that they have trouble finding the time to blog. Highly recommended. / (1) Comments / [ 04.12.07 ]

» Google Earth has teamed with the US Holocaust Museum to map the atrocities in Darfur. Now what? What if you created a transparent society, but nobody cared? Take a look at the project yourself, and please, please care. Email your Congressional representative with this link, or call and demand that the US take action. "When it comes to responding to genocide, the world's record is terrible. We hope this important initiative with Google will make it that much harder for the world to ignore those who need us the most." Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. / (1) Comments / [ 04.12.07 ]

» Oh, wow. Writer's Rooms, including the studies of Antoina Frasier, JG Ballard, Sarah Waters, and Michael Frayn. "Something that has always surprised me about other people's work habits is how often they chose to have their desks by a window looking onto an agreeable view. For me that would be fatal. I can shut out some distractions when working, but not the temptation to watch what's going on out of doors." Diana Athill (via dm)  [ 04.13.07 ]

» Has your teenager started wearing black and smoking clove cigarettes? Don't be afraid! A Sussex Univeristy study shows that most goths are articulate, sensitive, literature-loving romantics, who are likely to grow into a well-paid profession in their adult lives, "They won't like me saying it, but their lifestyle, unlike the punk scene, is a middle-class sub culture." Dr. Dunja Brill, Sussex University. (thanks, Ray!) / (1) Comments / [ 04.13.07 ]

» A collection of diagrams, including How the United States are connected to each other, a Hebrew Bible overview, Wall Street Scandals, and Star Wars. (via notm) / (1) Comments / [ 04.16.07 ]

» It turns out those new UPS commercials featuring whiteboard drawings are directed by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris ("Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control", "The Thin Blue Line", and "The Fog of War", among others).  [ 04.16.07 ]

» Maki reviews Guinness Marmite—and manages to convince me that I'd like to try some.  [ 04.17.07 ]

» A look at the mirror world of movie rentals, and the factors that may propel a modest box-office success to rental stardom.  [ 04.18.07 ]

» Fortune: The end of Garbage.

They want industry to mimic biology, where one species' excrement is another's food. "We're not talking here about eliminating waste," [William] McDonough explains. "We're talking about eliminating the entire concept of waste."
This utopian vision is a long way off. But the changing economics of waste disposal, technical advances, and grass-roots activism - along with the feverish desire of big companies to appear green - are bringing it closer than you might think.

/ (2) Comments / [ 04.19.07 ]

» The New Yorker Cooked Books

Not long ago, I attempted to mimic some cooking as it is done in a number of relatively recent novels. I began, foolishly, with several recipes from Günter Grass’s Nobel Prize-provoking “The Flounder,” the epic allegory of German history told through the endlessly repeated parable of an evil fish, a gullible man, a virtuous woman, and a lot of potatoes. The talking Flounder, being both the evil daemon and the central consciousness of the piece, has a natural class interest in flounder’s not being eaten, so there is a shortage of fish recipes in “The Flounder.” (I was tempted by a detailed description of how to make stewed tripe, but who in my gang would eat stewed tripe?)

The whole thing is positively Thurber-esque.  [ 04.20.07 ]

» Did I never link this? Since 2000, the Japanese village of Inakadate has created rice paddy art depicting subjects as varied as a rice paddy Mona Lisa to traditional Japanese scenes and figures. Inakadate Village's webpage has documented villagers planting and harvesting rice from one year's design. Last year the village CIR even maintained a blog.  [ 04.23.07 ]

» Ramit points to a contest for Socially Conscious student entrepreneurs. Conscious Lifestyle is offering grants of up to $1000 to 10 students with a socially innovative ideas. Deadline is May 11.  [ 04.23.07 ]

» A group of Washington DC neighbors have formed a group called "Capitol Hill Elders" that is designed to set up a system for home maintenance and typical retirement home services for them as they grow old in their own homes. "When I was single, I didn't want to live in a singles building, and when I am older, I don't want to live with exclusively one age group. I like the stimulation of different opinions, different ideas and people at different stages in their lives." Ednajane Truax. / (2) Comments / [ 04.24.07 ]

» Jorn (feeling that "weblog" is the least interesting of the bunch) has posted a list of terms he has coined over the years. I love his concept of negative intelligence—the internet phenomenon where bad ideas drive out good—a concept he proposed in 1996.

[W]hat I notice on netnews is that negative intelligence rules almost everywhere-- newsgroups are great sucking black-holes of negative intelligence, where the greatest bigots have the loudest voices, and the greatest say...
The way people get smarter, generally, is by looking at multiple points of view, and letting these pov's 'debate among themselves' in the most even-handed manner possible. But in newsgroups, people who try to lay things out evenhandedly get massively squelched....

You may wish to substitute the term "political blogs" for "netnews" as you are reading this. / (1) Comments / [ 04.25.07 ]

» Here's a primer for businesses and organizations that want to take a more active role in tracking their reputation on the Internet: Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide. (via sew)  [ 04.25.07 ]

» The Knight Science Journalism Tracker is a new blog that bills itself as "peer review within science journalism". Science writer Charles Petit summarizes the science news stories of the day with a focus on how it was reported, good and bad. That's blogging in its most classic sense, and it's a really smart use of the form.  [ 04.26.07 ]

» The Guardian: American beauty. In the 1530s, British artist John White travelled to the New World, and was among the first to document what he saw there in drawings and paintings. His work is currently showing at the British Museum through June 17, and you can see some of his watercolors online at Virtual Jamestown.  [ 04.27.07 ]

» A new study that finds that in the United States, men and women work about equal hours. (In poorer countries, women work more.)

For me, there is one major problem with this study—it lumps women who work full-time outside the home, those who work part-time outside the home, and those who work only in the home into one category. It makes sense to me that in familes where one spouse works in the marketplace and the other works at home, the time spent would be roughly equal, possibly skewing the results for those couples where both spouses had paid work.

Compare and contrast this statement from the article with the one linked above:

The most educated quarter of the American population works a combined 8.7 hours, while the lowest educated quarter works 6.3 hours—a difference of more than two hours per day.

 [ 04.30.07 ]

» An economic mystery: Why do the poor seem to have more free time than the rich? Scroll down to Monday, Mar. 12, 2007 on this page for a series of rebuttals.  [ 04.30.07 ]

» What with travelling and all, I missed it—but it occured to me today that on Friday, Rebecca's Pocket was 8 years old. Thanks for reading. / (7) Comments / [ 04.30.07 ]



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