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Archive for August, 2012

Re-Inventing The Wheel

Now that we’ve all had the weekend to digest the Apple vs Samsung verdict and it’s become old news, I thought I’d chime in. John Gruber doesn’t see this ruling being harmful to consumers.

But I don’t think there’s anything in this verdict that would prevent Google, Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, Sony, or RIM from creating a new phone that is way better than the iPhone. Better necessarily implies different. What this verdict should prevent is any of them making phones that are disturbingly similar to Apple’s.

I don’t buy it. The iPhone is not a monolithic thing that a competitor can be judged “better than” or “worse than”. it is a collection of details. Other smart phones, likewise, are the sum of their collections of details, both obvious and subtle.

Matt Yglesias likens today’s smart phone race to the early days of automobiles.

Think about cars and you’ll see that, of course, lots of different companies make cars. But they all have some very similar user interface elements. In particular, there’s a steering wheel that you turn left and right to shift the wheels and there’s a gas pedal and breaks that you hit with your right foot. Imagine if the way the automobile industry worked was that each car maker had to devise a unique user interface. So maybe GM cars would have a steering wheel, but Toyotas would have a joystick, and Honda you would steer with your feel and use your hands to control the gas and breaks.

Cars today don’t operate drastically different from cars created 50 years ago, but it’s hard to argue that technology has stood still. But let’s consider what would have happened if Ford had been granted exclusive rights to the steering wheel some time during the past. Sure, it’s possible that, faced with the prospect of being unable to simply try to iterate, making a steering wheel that turns smoother or is angles more ergonomically, they would go back to the drawing board and invent the next big thing. Instead of cars, we could all be moving around on giant family sized Segways today. but I doubt it.

Invention is great, but day to day progress is made through innovation. Taking an existing idea, tweaking it, then putting it back out in the world. Call me a dirty pinko, but I think technology moves fastest through novel collections of existing tech. This verdict just means we’re going to see companies settling for inferior solutions so as to avoid a lawsuit. Any time a designer spends worrying about the fine line of IP infringement and not about making the best product they can is a huge waste.

Categories: Computer Blue Tags: , , , ,

Home of Proto-IndoEuropean Language Found?

Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea some 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, some 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword.

The new entrant to the debate is an evolutionary biologist, Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He and colleagues have taken the existing vocabulary and geographical range of 103 Indo-European languages and computationally walked them back in time and place to their statistically most likely origin.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that such disparate cultures share a common mother tounge, and the idea that we can, to some small extent, reconstruct it. Now we might be narrowing in on a place of where it originated.

Categories: Uncategorized

Like Geocaching For Music Nerds

Gramercy3

Sometimes… something just sticks in your craw. An obsessive can stare at a beautiful painting for ah hour, agonizing over a single brush stroke. A reader can find themselves going over and over a particular passage in a novel, looking for it to suddenly reveal a hidden meaning. We are born to see patterns and trained to solve mysteries. I understand these impulses.

So I link to Bob Elgin’s blog, PopSpots, with no small degree of jealousy that he was the first to create a project of finding the original locations of some of rock and roll’s most famous album covers and photographs, and that he did it so damn well. 

Scroll down a little bit. Skip the Billy Joel section. I won’t tell anyone. Then do yourself a favor and click on the individual entries. Bob writes an engaging narrative about each photo, going into exhaustive detail on his effort to track down the exact wall, intersection, or doorframe that appeared in photo taken generations ago. Excellent detective work leading to pieces of history. It’s like a Dan Brown novel that isn’t terrible.

We’ve created such a mythology around this classic era of rock and roll, decades later it all seemed a bit larger than life. I’m glad someone is out there setting these images in concrete. 

As a side note, I am particularly shocked to find that the cover to Highway 61 Revisited was taken outside. I always pictured that to be backstage in some historic theater, or in a hip brownstone. 

Categories: Music Tags: , ,

Schwartzy

Greg Schwartz can be a hard guy to love. Catch him on a bad night and you’ve got your own personal heckler for the evening. But catch him on a good night and you’ll find him to be affable and generous. EIther way, he is always on another planet. So it warms my heart to see one of our local characters hit the big time. 

If you’re not local, I recommend watching the video. It’s labeled as a poetry performance, but in all honestly that’s pretty much just how he talks. 

Categories: Local Tags: ,

Selves-Portraits

Brian Lewis Saunders on DMT

Artist Brian Lewis Saunders has been working on a series of self portraits for over a decade now. Every day, no matter his mood, physical ailments, or state of sobriety. Here’s his facinating series under the influence of various substances.

/via Kottke.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Dance

Cause you’re a big girl now. 

Categories: Uncategorized

There Have Been No Original Ideas In Your Lifetime

August 15, 2012 1 comment

Proof that copyright overreach is not only a problem for the internet age. From a list of 13 aborted Hitchcock films: 

4. Hamlet, starring Cary Grant

In the late 1940s, Hitchcock hit on an odd idea: he wanted to produce a modernized version of Hamlet set in England with Cary Grant in the title role. According to Hitchcock, the project “would be presented as a psychological melodrama.” The idea hit the rocks after Hitchcock’s studio, Transatlantic, announced the project and a professor who had written a modernized version of Shakespeare’s tale threatened a lawsuit.

You got that? A guy was literally going to sue Alfred Hitchcock over stealing the idea of stealing Shakespeare’s ideas. I’m honestly not even sure what law he thought he could sue under, but it was enough to scare off a big movie studio. 

The idea is laughable now, but it seems that there was a point where let’s rewrite Shakespeare in a modern context seemed like a novel idea. Of course, writers have been ripping off Shakespeare since, well, Shakespeare’s time. The true innovation was to just cut the crap and call the damn film “Hamlet”. 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

In Defense of Jack Kerouac

August 15, 2012 2 comments

“Stay in the flesh. Stay in the limbs and lips and in the belly. Stay in the breast and womb. Stay there, O Soul, where you belong”

— D.H Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, on Walt Whitman

Art and Fandom will always be difficult to separate. Writers and artists tend to be complicated individuals who can appeal to different groups for vastly different reasons. Lasting art tends to be more than a symbol for a single idea, but instead is more like a collage of conflicting impulses. Naturally, some people will gravitate to a particular aspect of a song or movie or book that others may find peripheral. For example, you may enjoy the rustic country-rock of American Beauty while having no interest in living in a VW Microbus and living off nitrous and hash brownies. You may enjoy the depiction of the corruption of the American Dream in The Sopranos while understanding that ending sentences with “Fugetaboutit!” just isn’t funny. 

Art can be pegged to times, places, philosophies, or aesthetics. Just as Johnny Cash’s later recordings will always represent the end of life, and Big Star will always remind you of that year you smoked a ton of pot and almost flunked out of college, for  many of us On The Road will always mark the period where we started dipping our toes outside of the horizon we grew up with. It was a document that said that there were real choices in life, and it’s been a favorite of bored middle class teenagers for over 50 years. 

On The Road has taken on a lot of baggage over the last several generations. There’s a definite sense of juvenile excitement. A rebellious, selfish, angry-young-man quality built in to the very premise of the novel that seems painfully, self consciously earnest at times. There comes a time when you start to worry about problems bigger than where to find the next apple pie and ice cream. Drifting from town to town, family to family, is no way to live a life. Worse than the text, even, are the folks who see this as a guide to life.

We’ve probably all met someone who read On The Road and saw it as a manual for escaping responsibility. Many of us went through that phase ourselves at some point. And much like any philosophy that requires you to live more deeply in some text than in real life, that attitude can be infuriating. So it’s not surprising, or even unfair, that at Katie J.M. Baker takes issue with Kerouac, and his fans. 

“Whenever anyone tells me they ‘adore’ On The Road — which doesn’t happen that often because I don’t hang out with sixteen-year-olds”, she says, ” I can’t help but think she or he isn’t particularly well-read, just eager to come off as adventurous, spontaneous, and/or sexy. ” Fair enough. On The Road has become less a novel than a cultural token expressing a desire for some sort of “freedom”, which can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. But that’s not to say we should write Kerouac off. 

Kerouac’s great contribution was not jumping in a car in search of adventure. I’d argue that his great contribution to literature was awe. Along with Allen Ginsburg, Kerouac was instrumental in keeping alive a sense of majesty that went back to William Blake and Walt Whitman. In the context of their studied contemporaries, the Beats stood practically mouth-agape. Baker laughs off the idea of “roman candles”, but maybe today more than ever we could use some wild eyed idealism. Cynicism is reductive. Jack Kerouac may have been a goddamned basket case, but he knew how to record a moment, his thoughts and neurosis and wonder, better than anyone of his generation. Pages and pages of nonsense scrawled in search of the perfect, transcendent collection of lines. It’s not a style that works for everyone. In fact, I don’t know that I’d recommend anyone follow purely in his footsteps. But I can’t help believing that somewhere between the perfectionism of David Foster Wallace and first thought, best thought lies some sort of truth. 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Feed Your Brain: History Of The Taco

Still on vacation, but here’s something to keep you busy. A brief history of the humble taco.

Categories: Nom Tags:

Some People Don’t Understand Free Speech

Being on vacation this week, I’ve mostly missed the hubbub surrounding Chick-fil-A’s anti gay stance. I did, however, read this article about the pro Chick-fil-A backlash in my neck of the woods. What struck me most was that so many people standing in line to support hate seemed to seriously believe they this was more of a matter of free speech.

“I’m here because (the owner) should have the right to say what he feels and not be chastised for that,” said Jean Matt.

Here’s the thing: that’s not how free speech works. In America, you DO have the right to say what you want, but you have to expect a reaction. That is how we function in a marketplace of ideas. You come out with something batshit crazy, I call you in it, and people line up along sides arguing the merits of our positions until the matter is sorted out.

If this gentleman truly valued free speech, he would have sent his $5.95 towards the ACLU. Unfortunately, we do live in a time where free speech is often under attack, and the ACLU functions as the first line of defense.

It is admirable to care deeply about the state of free speech in the world today. There are plenty of instances where it is in danger. But if the extent of your activism is to stand in line to buy a chicken sandwich (delicious though it may be), then it is time to think about what truly motivated you. You’re not standing up for speech. You’re standing up for hate.