california san francisco tech


Steve Jobs on the floor of his apartment

music tech

We come from the land of the ice and snow

Curi­ous about what songs I've lis­tened to most, I nav­i­gat­ed over to my pro­file and saw this:

Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin -

Do I love "Immi­grant Song?" Yes. Do I imi­tate its open­ing vocal, Robert Plant's rever­ber­at­ing war cry that gets as close to the heart of awe­some­ness as any lyric in the his­to­ry of rock? Fre­quent­ly. But have I lis­tened to it 3,000+ times in the past cou­ple of years? Rough­ly 5x per day?I mean, maybe? But there's some­thing about this ran­dom (and prob­a­bly wrong) sta­tis­tic that makes me won­der what kinds of facts and fig­ures will drift long into the future, passed from disk to disk, tied to my name, dis­cov­ered by future peo­ple and being puz­zled over. Some­one in some ver­sion of the future, comb­ing through old web stats, Immi­grant Song has become, like the nation­al anthem, and this per­son will think, "Doug LeMoine, man. What a maniac."

ixd tech web

For the love of shopping

I'm doing some work in Sin­ga­pore right now, and I've quick­ly noticed a cou­ple of things: Sin­ga­pore­an peo­ple love to shop, and they love deals. But they don't have access to cer­tain brands — Amer­i­can Appar­el, For­ev­er 21, Victoria's Secret, etc. To get stuff from these places, they have to order stuff over the Inter­net, and have it shipped across the world. And this can be real­ly expen­sive.

LiveJournal spree community

A com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice. The prac­tice of find­ing deals.So, some indus­tri­ous, deal-seek­ing shop­pers have cre­at­ed Live­Jour­nal com­mu­ni­ties in which shop­pers can band togeth­er to save ship­ping costs from online retail­ers. These so-called "sprees" usu­al­ly cor­re­spond to glob­al ship­ping deals offered by a retail­er, and they're avail­able until cer­tain cri­te­ria are met — min­i­mum amounts for the ship­ping deal, or when­ev­er the spree-launch­er decides to take care of the order.In the above exam­ple, the spree is for a retail­er called "Appar­el," it's open, and there are 35 "com­ments," many of which are actu­al­ly "orders." That's right, you sub­mit your order in a pub­lic space, so that oth­ers can see how close the spree is to being filled.In order to build trust among their users, the com­mu­ni­ty above pro­vides a way to give feed­back; they've cre­at­ed a sep­a­rate com­mu­ni­ty called "spreefeed­back" where users leave com­ments about the trust­wor­thi­ness of the users who launch the sprees. Hacky, but appar­ent­ly effec­tive. Pret­ty cool, huh?On relat­ed notes, Jane Ful­ton Suri's Thought­less Acts?: Obser­va­tions on Intu­itive Design is filled with intrigu­ing exam­ples of every­day hacks in the phys­i­cal world.

lit tech

Kindle on the iPhone / Buy futures in poetry

Emerson - Self-Reliance - Kindle - iPhone

If I were a deriv­a­tives man, I'd go to the Chica­go Board of Trade and buy up some poet­ry futures. Sell frozen orange juice and pork bel­lies; buy poet­ry. Why? Because it is the per­fect prod­uct for small screen read­ing. Peo­ple are read­ing more and more stuff on small­er and small­er screens, every­one knows this, duh. War and Peace is avail­able for the Kin­dle, but who wants to wres­tle that mon­ster through a key­hole? Any­way, last night, I down­loaded the awk­ward­ly named Kin­dle for the iPhone. I had tried to become a Kin­dle user (of the device — con­fus­ing, yes?). I failed at this, but I had some Kin­dle-ized books left over — Leaves of Grass and the Mod­ern Library's Essen­tial Writ­ings of Ralph Wal­do Emer­son — and I down­loaded those. I didn't real­ly expect much. Twice today, I found myself read­ing through sec­tions of Leaves of Grass: "A PROMISE to Cal­i­for­nia, / Also to the great Pas­toral Plains, and for Ore­gon: / Sojourn­ing east a while longer, soon I trav­el toward you, to remain, to teach robust Amer­i­can love." Good read­ing as I watched the lunch crowd at Mixt Greens. The entire Leaves of Grass is avail­able on Bartle­by, by the way. Then, as I was wait­ing for a con­fer­ence call to start, I read Emerson's poem "Self-Reliance." Hard to con­duct a con­fer­ence call with a mind thus expand­ed by poet­ry, but I think I can get used to it. Poet­ry on the iPhone! It makes a lot of sense, and Ama­zon did a nice job with the inter­face. Sim­ple, to the point, no BS, just like read­ing should be. 

tech web

Twitter dream team, beginnings of

I couldn't agree more with David Pogue, Twit­ter is what you make of it. This is what I would make of it, if only.

Twitter dream team - Ginsberg, O'Hara
tech tv

Lost / Story-wrangling systems

I've always been fas­ci­nat­ed by Lost, the intri­cate­ly-plot­ted TV series about the sur­vivors of a plane crash. On the sur­face, it's a new-fan­gled Gilligan's Island meets The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The goal is sim­ply to get off the island, and the sto­ry of doing so is advanced in par­al­lel with flash­backs that tell the sto­ries of the char­ac­ters. But the writ­ers go way big­ger than that, and after four sea­sons the sto­ry has woven threads of Lord of the Flies (in the way that social sys­tems devel­op among the sur­vivors), The Pris­on­er (in the dis­cov­ery of a mys­te­ri­ous group of peo­ple liv­ing on the island, known as "the Oth­ers") The X‑Files (in the occa­sion­al super­nat­ur­al events), and Rashomon (in its use of over­lap­ping flash­backs and con­test­ed tes­ti­monies) — among, I'm sure, others.With all that is going on in the sto­ry, I've always won­dered how the pro­duc­ers keep track of the var­i­ous threads. Well, as it turns out, there's a per­son called "script coor­di­na­tor" who is in charge of this. Gregg Nations, Lost's script coor­di­na­tor, described his role in a post to The Fuse­lage, described as "The Offi­cial Site of the Cre­ative Team Behind ABC's Award Win­ning TV Show Lost:"

A script coor­di­na­tor cre­ates the show bible, which is gen­er­al­ly a sum­ma­ry of each episode and tracks the intro­duc­tion of any new char­ac­ters or impor­tant sto­ry points. How­ev­er, on "Lost†it's a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult than usu­al. In place of a show bible I cre­at­ed a char­ac­ter bible, an island time­line and a flash­back timeline.In the char­ac­ter bible I track impor­tant facts about the char­ac­ters or oth­er ele­ments in the show estab­lished in the episodes, either through what the char­ac­ters tell each oth­er or the flash­backs. I track how many sur­vivors we have, who has died and their names, when we've seen the polar bears or the smoke mon­ster, every­thing about the hatch, when we've had con­tact with the Oth­ers, etc. Again, it's very detailed work but I think the writ­ers appre­ci­ate hav­ing all that infor­ma­tion at hand in a doc­u­ment so they don't have to wor­ry about it.The island time­line is a record of how many days they've been on the island and what hap­pened on what days. The flash­back time­line tracks the events that hap­pen in everyone's flashblacks.

So, the next ques­tion is: How the heck does he man­age all of those bibles and time­lines? Need­ing to visu­al­ize inter­con­nect­ed time­lines, you'd think that he'd use some­thing like a Gantt chart — maybe Microsoft Project? Or maybe he has some pro­pri­etary TV pro­duc­tion soft­ware that links the time­lines with char­ac­ter infor­ma­tion? As it turns out, his sys­tem is a lit­tle more low-fi. In a recent pro­file in the NYT, Nations briefly alludes to his meth­ods for man­ag­ing the details:

Had he a back­ground in com­put­er sci­ence, Mr. Nations now says, he might have approached the "Lost†project dif­fer­ent­ly. "The best thing would have been to cre­ate a data­base where everything's linked, and if we're talk­ing about Jack and what was estab­lished in his first flash­back episode, you could click on some­thing that takes you there,†he said. But as an accoun­tant, he was more inclined just to make notes in a ledger. "I've just cre­at­ed these Word doc­u­ments, and I just write every­thing down.â€

Nooooooooo. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Even the fan-gen­er­at­ed Lost wiki, Lost­pe­dia, is linked up in a rudi­men­ta­ry way, mak­ing it rough­ly 1000x more wran­gle-able than dis­con­nect­ed Word doc­u­ments. Still, like any Lost fan, I'm curi­ous to know what's in the "bible," even if it would be tor­tur­ous to find anything.

music tech

Simple sounds for hard times

The fall­out of greed and incom­pe­tence is once again trick­ling down to Main Street. Kiss my ass, you greedy Wall Street bas­tards. And you bureau­crats and cronies can kiss my ass, too. Is there any­one out there who thinks beyond the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cycle? Any­one? Is any­one try­ing to do any­thing oth­er than make them­selves rich, or keep their friends in office? Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrg. When I got laid off in 2001, I did a lot of soul-search­ing, ate a lot of Can­cun veg­gie bur­ri­tos (they were $3.29; they're $4.99 now), and did a lot of read­ing at Green Apple. One after­noon, I came across Woody Guthrie's auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Bound for Glo­ry. Now there was a guy who knows a thing or two about hard times. The title is deeply iron­ic, as Guthrie expe­ri­enced a lot of hard­ship, but through it all he had deep con­fi­dence in him­self and deep faith that he would do great things. Greed, incom­pe­tence and bad luck afflict­ed him, (and mil­lions of oth­ers), but life goes on. And if you're a per­son like Woody Guthrie, you take the hard les­son and you turn it into some­thing like Dust Bowl Bal­lads.[You should see a lit­tle Flash play­er below each song title; apolo­gies if you don't. Work­ing on it].

Woody Guthrie, "I ain't got no home" [Download]

[audio:guthrie_home.mp3] Of course, I was nev­er close to being caught out on a lit­er­al road with oth­er lit­er­al­ly dis­placed peo­ple, but this pas­sage deeply affect­ed me:

My broth­ers and my sis­ters are strand­ed on this road,A hot and dusty road that a mil­lion feet have trod;Rich man took my home and drove me from my doorAnd I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

2001 was no Dust Bowl, and I was nowhere near as des­ti­tute as Tom Joad. But the feel­ing of alien­ation and dis­il­lu­sion real­ly rang true to me, the sense that "a mil­lion feet" have trod a much worse path gave me com­fort, I guess. (Guthrie also hat­ed Wall Street bas­tards more than any­one, which gave me a great deal of com­fort). So the next track is all about turn­ing the cor­ner, find­ing hap­pi­ness, and being bound for glo­ry. It's from an incred­i­ble col­lec­tion of music called Art of Field Record­ing, Vol. 1, a col­lec­tion of record­ings made in rur­al homes and church­es over the past 50 years. 

Lawrence McKiver and the McIntosh County Shouters, "Jubilee" [Download]

[audio:mckiver_jubilee.mp3] For me, this track is an excel­lent reminder that a few peo­ple with a lot of spir­it and some knee-slap­ping can make some­thing deeply affect­ing. It doesn't take much. And that's the first step, per­haps, to being bound for glory.

lit tech web

Hellified quotatiousness

Ever since Shaquille O'Neal left the Lak­ers, I've been more love than hate. He's smart and charis­mat­ic in ways that are rare for a pro­fes­sion­al ath­lete, and of course he's giv­en out the League's best nick­names — The Big Aris­to­tle (to him­self), The Truth (to Paul Pierce), The Big Fun­da­men­tal (to Tim Dun­can), The Big Tick­et (to Kevin Gar­nett), and Flash (to Dwyane Wade). But now that he's start­ed Twit­ter­ing as THE_REAL_SHAQ, I'm very firm­ly in the Shaq love camp. He's quick­ly picked up on Twitter's con­ven­tions, and he's engaged a vari­ety of fans and oth­er folks on a vari­ety of mun­dane top­ics. @Shaq: I feel you, my friend. Keep it up.A selec­tion of Twit­ter Shaquliciousness:

  • His bio, two words: "Very quotatious."
  • Yes­ter­day: "Last nite i told greg oden , 'we r not the same, i am a martian'"
  • Last week: "About to go to yoga, got­ta get my stretch on"

Which reminds me of anoth­er star who has a way with words: Randy Moss, who recent­ly launched "hel­li­fied" into the every­day sports lex­i­con. Back in 2002, he became a per­ma­nent fix­ture on my refrig­er­a­tor when this pas­sage appeared in Sports Illus­trat­ed:

The per­cep­tion was that [recent­ly hired coach] Mike Tice, after one game as inter­im coach, was giv­en a three-year deal last Jan­u­ary because he con­vinced McCombs he could con­trol Moss. "No," says Moss. "Mike Tice got the job because he and Randy Moss can get along. Nobody con­trols me but my mama and God."

There's some­thing about that quote that sticks with me. Only con­trolled by his mama and God. @RandyMoss: It takes a spe­cial kind of per­son to even think in those terms. Keep it up.

basketball ideas lit tech web

The future of reading / A reading list

I love read­ing, and I've been think­ing a lot about how tech­nol­o­gy is affect­ing the way that we read now and in the future. I keep think­ing about some­thing Sven Birk­erts said in a 1998 inter­view with Harpers: "If you touch all parts of the globe, you can't do that and then turn around and look at your wife in the same way." [PDF] Of course, one could be turn around and look at one's wife in a more informed, more edu­cat­ed way, but that's not the way he sees it. I share this anx­i­ety: I love read­ing the New York Times on my phone, but I can't help but sense that some­thing will be lost if all print­ed mat­ter moves in this direction. 

My bookcaseThis is the top shelf on one of our book cas­es. It's com­fort­ing to have the books sit­ting there; they're like a ver­sion of myself, sit­ting on a shelf, dis­as­sem­bled and re-arrangeable.

In August 1995, Harpers Mag­a­zine con­duct­ed a round table dis­cus­sion with Wired's Kevin Kel­ly, author Sven Birk­erts, the Well's John Per­ry Bar­low, and Mark Slou­ka. The results were con­densed in the mag­a­zine [PDF], and the con­ver­sa­tion out­lines the two ide­olo­gies that con­tin­ue to con­verse today: Those who believe that the paper incar­na­tion of the book is an irre­place­able are­na for the deliv­ery of its con­tent, and those who don't. Birk­erts dis­cuss­es the for­mer in his 1995 book, The Guten­berg Ele­gies: The Fate of Read­ing in an Elec­tron­ic Age. In 2004, the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts sent a shot across the bow in a paper called "Read­ing at Risk," [PDF]. The researchers sur­veyed 17,000 peo­ple, and they con­clud­ed that the future of lit­er­ary read­ing is bleak: "Lit­er­ary read­ing in Amer­i­ca is not only declin­ing rapid­ly among all groups, but the rate of decline has accel­er­at­ed, espe­cial­ly among the young."Still, the total num­ber of books sold con­tin­ues to rise, so is the future real­ly that bleak? The NEA thinks so. It released a fol­low-on to Read­ing at Risk called "To Read or Not To Read." This study focus­es on young read­ers, and links the decline in read­ing to "civic, social and eco­nom­ic" risks.Last spring, Nicholas Carr dis­cussed Google's effect on lit­er­ary read­ing in the Atlantic, provoca­tive­ly titled "Is Google Mak­ing Us Stu­pid." [I dis­cussed this in a blog post at the Coop­er Jour­nal called "Dumb is the new smart"]. In it, he inter­views a blog­ger who con­fess­es the following:

"I can't read War and Peace anymore,†he admit­ted. "I've lost the abil­i­ty to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four para­graphs is too much to absorb. I skim it."

The arti­cle also sparked a dis­cus­sion on, col­lect­ed in a forum called "Your Brain Online." It's got a lot of inter­est­ing stuff from folks like Kevin Kel­ly, Dan­ny Hillis and Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Every­body, who thinks that the "unprece­dent­ed abun­dance" of the web will func­tion to break the vise-grip of the "lit­er­ary world" on culture: 

It's not just because of the web — no one reads War and Peace. It's too long, and not so inter­est­ing. This obser­va­tion is no less sac­ri­le­gious for being true. The read­ing pub­lic has increas­ing­ly decid­ed that Tolstoy's sacred work isn't actu­al­ly worth the time it takes to read it, but that process start­ed long before the inter­net became main­stream … The threat isn't that peo­ple will stop read­ing War and Peace. That day is long since past. The threat is that peo­ple will stop gen­u­flect­ing to the idea of read­ing War and Peace.

Ursu­la Le Guin dis­putes the notion that peo­ple have ever read War and Peace. (Well, maybe.) 

Self-sat­is­fac­tion with the inabil­i­ty to remain con­scious when faced with print­ed mat­ter seems ques­tion­able. But I also want to ques­tion the assump­tion — whether gloomy or faint­ly gloat­ing — that books are on the way out. I think they're here to stay. It's just that not all that many peo­ple ever did read them. Why should we think every­body ought to now?

The title of her recent Harper's essay pret­ty well sums up her posi­tion: "Notes on the alleged decline of read­ing." It roars through the var­i­ous aspects of the state of read­ing and pub­lish­ing, quick­ly turn­ing into a ring­ing indict­ment of cor­po­rate publishers:

The social qual­i­ty of lit­er­a­ture is still vis­i­ble in the pop­u­lar­i­ty of best­sellers. Pub­lish­ers get away with mak­ing bor­ing, baloney-mill nov­els into best­sellers via mere P.R. because peo­ple need best­sellers. It is not a lit­er­ary need. It is a social need. We want books every­body is read­ing (and nobody fin­ish­es) so we can talk about them.

On that social note

I was just look­ing at my beat-up copy of "The Dhar­ma Bums," and I felt a sort Chris Matthews-esque tin­gle. I bought it dur­ing high school at Rainy Day Books in Fair­way, Kansas, and it sparked my fas­ci­na­tion with the West Coast, years before I ever trav­eled here. Would I ever read it again? Prob­a­bly not. In fact, just now, I could bare­ly read even a cou­ple of pages with­out feel­ing like Ker­ouac was on auto-pilot. But I like the idea that my book­shelf is a kind of exter­nal­iza­tion of myself, a col­lec­tion of impor­tant influ­ences and expres­sions. The future of my books appears to be not so dif­fer­ent than the present: A com­bi­na­tion of tal­is­mans, objects of beau­ty, and points of reference.On the sub­ject of ref­er­ence, in (wait for it) a Harper's essay called ""A Defense of the Book," William Gass talks about the plea­sures of not hav­ing the world at your fin­ger­tips:

I have rarely paged through one of my dic­tio­nar­ies (a decent house­hold will have a dozen) with­out my eye light­ing, along the way, on words more beau­ti­ful than a found fall leaf, on def­i­n­i­tions odd­er than any uncle, on grotesques like gonadotropin-releas­ing hor­mone or, bare­ly, above it — what? — gombeen — which turns out to be Irish for usury.

And holy crap, there's a whole lot more Gass at Tun­nel­ing. Arti­cles, links, thoughts. I love the Internet.

ideas lit minneapolis tech

Futures / Literary books, small presses, & technology

Last week­end, I had an unlike­ly oppor­tu­ni­ty: I was invit­ed to sit on a pan­el that dis­cussed the future of small lit­er­ary press­es, non-prof­it pub­lish­ing, and — in gen­er­al — books that took place at Cof­fee House Press in Min­neapo­lis. I love books, read­ing, and non-cor­po­rate media, so I jumped at the chance to talk about this stuff in pub­lic. You may ask: Why me? I have a per­son on the inside who knows that I like to talk.1 My fel­low pan­elists were a murderer's row of pub­lish­ing insight. Rick Simon­son is the co-founder of Cop­per Canyon Press and a book buy­er at the Elliott Bay Book Com­pa­ny in Seat­tle; Richard Nash is the pub­lish­er of Soft Skull Press; Patri­cia Waki­da runs Wasabi Press; and, Michael Cof­fey is the Man­ag­ing Edi­tor at Publisher's Week­ly (and the author of an excel­lent base­ball book, 27 Men Out).When we got start­ed, I sus­pect­ed I'd been tossed in a shark tank wear­ing a meat neck­lace. I found myself rat­tling on about things in my frame of ref­er­ence — tech­nol­o­gy, social media, iPhones, Kin­dles, stuff want­i­ng to be free — and I wor­ried that all of it was sim­ply chum­ming the waters for my fel­low pan­elists who (a) know a lot about pub­lish­ing, and (b) clear­ly rec­og­nized that their busi­ness mod­els are being erod­ed by tech­nolo­gies that offer new ways to read (i.e., every­thing with a screen) and sup­ply chain dis­in­ter­me­di­a­tion, i.e. Ama­zon.

Side note: The weather was beautiful

Flickr photoWhen­ev­er I take a pic­ture of him, Fish (i.e., Chris Fis­chbach of Cof­fee House) tells me: "I bet­ter not see this on the Inter­net." But I just had to take this one while he and Katie (of Gray­wolf and New York Times fame) took me on an excel­lent walk along the Mis­sis­sip­pi just before win­ter arrived.

As it turned out, we had a series of pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions. My col­leagues and the audi­ence were keen to know about how com­pa­nies go about deter­min­ing the right way to con­ceive tech­no­log­i­cal prod­ucts, and to imple­ment them appro­pri­ate­ly. Mean­while, I learned a lot about small press­es, pub­lish­ing, and the ways that edi­tors at lit­er­ary press­es think about their work. Allan Korn­blum, the founder of Cof­fee House Press, saw him­self as "the inher­i­tor of the Maxwell Perkins tra­di­tion" in cre­at­ing deep and last­ing rela­tion­ships with artists, sup­port­ing them and pro­vid­ing a con­sis­tent venue for pub­li­ca­tion. Fish said that he want­ed "to cre­ate art objects that last." Both of those goals make a lot of sense to me, and they seem like a firm foun­da­tion for a busi­ness in transition.

So, what is the future of reading, anyway?

I'm going to put togeth­er anoth­er post about my thoughts on this top­ic, and in the mean­time I'm going to be digest­ing some of the work that my fel­low pan­elists ref­er­enced dur­ing our dis­cus­sions; this list includes Ursu­la Le Guin's "Notes on the alleged decline of read­ing" that I saw in Patricia's pile of notes; Michael men­tioned Bill McKibben's new book, Deep Econ­o­my in mak­ing a com­par­i­son between region­al lit­er­a­ture and a larg­er move­ment toward region­al and local economies; Richard spoke a cou­ple of times about lit­er­ary sub­scrip­tion pro­grams, such as Soft Skull's annu­al edi­tion, and Powell's indiespens­able list. 1 I was there because my friend Fish (the senior edi­tor at Cof­fee House Press) thought that my expe­ri­ence with tech­nol­o­gy and online prod­uct strat­e­gy would com­ple­ment the deep exper­tise of the small press lumi­nar­ies on the pan­el. Or per­haps he just want­ed to see what hap­pened when I said the words "Kin­dle" and "free" around Michael Cof­fey. In the end, there would be no way of know­ing.