Category Archives: culture

How powerful is twitter?


I agree with this assessment by Noah Smith: it is not powerful at all. It can seem powerful at times, like a very high wind. But like a very high wind, it either subsides or moves on. Sometimes there is damage, but mainly not.

If you disagree, I recommend you read his piece. It’s a pretty strong argument for why twitter as a social force is limited.

P.S. I have felt that for some time. I mainly post things that are either positive or amusing. If I want to take social action, there are concrete ways to do that.

P.S.S. Tweets are like straw, blowing this way and that way, yet not moving and not affecting things, besides making a nice noise.

(Photo by seth schwiet on Unsplash )

When was SNL at it’s best?

The joke is that SNL was at its best the years you watched it as a teen. I have literally been watching it since it started — Yes, I am old — and I kinda agree with that. SNL is really such an uneven thing that even back then there were good and bad parts of the show. (Usually anything after the second musical performance is throwaway). As well, SNL is best as much for individual performers as it is for the entire show. From Catherine McKinnon all the way back to Gilda Radner, there have been individual performers who made a good show great. (My favorite of all time is Bill Murray, but there are too many to mention here).

For another take on it, here is a someone more objective study on when SNL was at its peak. According to this piece in OpenCulture, this YouTuber took a systematic approach to deciding the best of SNL. He…

… decided to withhold judgment on the overall quality curve of Saturday Night Live, his favorite show, before putting in the time and effort to watch at least one episode from every year in its run

The article has a link to his YouTube results. As OpenCulture concludes,

He may not change anyone’s mind about the best, and worst, seasons, episodes, cast members, and hosts. But he does demonstrate an admirable willingness to dig into SNL’s history and give years of comedy positively antiquated by 21st century standards a fair shake.

More goodness from the 80s

David Salle painting

Here at this blog I will always share my love of the 1980s.

First up, here is a great piece in the New Yorker on a recent Whitney art show which highlighted the Joy of Eighties Art. It’s begins great:

Starting in the late nineteen-seventies, young American artists plunged, pell-mell, into making figurative paintings. That seemed ridiculously backward by the lights of the time’s reigning vanguards of flinty post-minimalism, cagey conceptualism, and chaste abstraction. The affront was part of the appeal. As with contemporaneous punk music, sheer nerve rocketed impudent twentysomethings to stardom on New York’s downtown scene. The powerful excitement of that moment has been languishing in a blind spot of recent art history, but “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s,” at the Whitney, a show of works by thirty-seven artists from the museum’s collection, comes to the rescue. Some of the names are famous: Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring.

I loved reading every word of that. A great review.

Other 80s things I found recently is this here ode to a great album of the the early 1980s: Rattlesnakes from Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

Saxophones don’t feature on that recording, but they did on many other great recordings of the 1980s. Gradually they died off. Here’s a good piece exploring that.

If you still have music from that era, chances are some of it is on a cassette tape, which was big then. If you suddenly have the urge to listen to that, you can, with this player (shown below at Uncrate.com). It’s not the original Walkman, but in some ways it’s better.

cassette player

Rock on.

(Top image is David Salle’s “Sextant in Dogtown” (1987).Courtesy David Salle / VAGA, NY. Linked to in the article. Bottom image is from the uncrate.com article)

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Every story in the world has one of these six basic plots, now proven by data science!

Well, you can determine for yourself whether every story in the world falls into one of these six basic plots:

1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
2. Riches to rags – a fall from good to bad, a tragedy
3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune
4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise then a fall again
5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
6. Man in a hole – fall, rise

…by reading this piece on how data scientists ran analysis on stories to see if they do: Every story in the world has one of these six basic plots – BBC Culture

It even comes with graphs! 🙂 Here’s Madame Bovary, following plot #2:

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What is OK Soda?

OK Soda is a product I never heard of before today, and reading about it in Wikipedia, I can see why.  It had a short unsuccessful life, lasting from 1993 to 1995. It was targeted at the marketplace of Gen Xers and echoes so much of that era. The first sentence in the Ok Manifesto — it was a product with a manifesto! – sums up the viewpoint of many people at the time:

  •  What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?

It was fun reading about this failed product and the time it failed in. I can see why it may have developed a cult following.

For more on OK, see this good post  or this piece in Buzzfeed.

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A tale of two Condé Nasts

One, the new hip Condé Nast:  How Bon Appétit Accidentally Made YouTube’s Most Beloved Stars

Two, the Condé Nast of the pre-digital age: Chaos at Condé Nast

It’s fascinating to read them together. Clearly a lot has changed since the turn of the century. While Bon Appétit is clearly on to something, it’s like a fluke that doesn’t translate across the rest of the organization. And regardless of how well they do — and I hope they do well — the golden pre-digital age is gone and not coming back.

Good weekend reading. That you likely are reading on a phone or tablet.

 

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Some basic thoughts on “Friends”: it’s roots and its relationship to screwball comedy


It’s the 25th anniversary of “Friends”, and a number of reviews I read talk about it looking backwards.This piece, though, does something better: it looks at where the series came up from.  Key quote to me was this:

Chandler, who is so indifferent about what he does that he is unable to pay his job even the small courtesy of hating it—Chandler, besuited and bedraggled, whose work in computer-something-or-other summons the amorphous anxieties of the coming digital age. … It is through Chandler, in the end, that Reality Bites finds its way into Friends’ otherwise chipper cosmology. His work is simply there, looming, draining, tautological. His laconic resentments of it invoke the precise strain of Gen Xed ennui the novelist Douglas Coupland had described earlier in the decade: the mistrust of institutions, the mistrust of professions, the mistrust of meaning itself.

You can see in the quote the tie to Douglas Coupland’s  book Generation X and the film Reality Bites. These are the roots of “Friends”. ‘Friends’ at 25: The Prescience of Chandler Bing’s Job – The Atlantic. That generation after the boomers needed a show, and many of them found it in “Friends”. Now people look back at it and many mock a show about six well dressed people living in an amazing apartment in NYC. But “Friends” then tried to make sense of becoming an adult, or “adulting”, to use a word that came along later. The fact that people have such fondness for it makes me think it resonated with them and it represents part of their lives.

I always liked “Friends”, but for a different reason. I am a fan of screwball comedy, and that series often went there. Seinfeld did absurdist comedy well, but I loved that this series did a comedic style I loved so much. Watch some episodes of “Friends” and then watch a classic screwball comedy like “Bringing Up Baby” or “His Girl Friday” and you will see the similarities.

All comedy series go pear shaped after a time, and the things that made it originally great fades. For a time “Friends” was one of the best comedies on TV, and it was great then because of the form of comedy it aspired to and because of the way it represented the time it was rooted in.

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In search of the real Scrooge

suppression

Everyone knows of Scrooge, the character in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. But is there a real person Scrooge was based on? This article sets out to find him: The real man who inspired Ebenezer Scrooge.

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Cinephilia & Beyond on the Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine


A visit to this page is a must for Blade Runner fans: Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine: A Fascinating Blast from the Past from the Heart of Ridley Scott’s Masterpiece • Cinephilia & Beyond.

Pull quote:

The Official Collector’s Edition Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine is a wonderful source of information, abounding in great photos and articles; a genuine treat both for hardcore fans of the film and all the newbies who just got introduced to the world of Rick Deckard. There are a lot of fascinating stuff here, but we’re especially excited about the interviews with Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford and Douglas Trumbull. We’re incredibly thankful to webmaster Netrunner from brmovie.com, who put a lot of effort into digitalizing the magazine and even contacted Mr. Friedman to get his blessing for the endeavor. While Netrunner shaped the material by separating photos from the accompanying text, we chose to offer you a .cbr file of greater resolution and quality, so you can browse the content more easily. If we may, we’d like to suggest using a little program called ComicRack for checking out this priceless blast from the past. Enjoy the read!

 

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How art can make us more confident


According to this, art can make us more confident by providing us with stories and representations of people with characteristics we share that overcome similar obstacles that we run up against. After all….

Confidence isn’t the belief that we won’t meet obstacles. It is the recognition that difficulties are an inescapable part of all worthwhile contributions. We need to ensure we have to hand plenty of narratives that normalise the role of pain, anxiety and disappointment in even the best and most successful lives.

I agree.

The image is an extended version of the work highlighted in the article. Like the Stations of the Cross and other works, they illustrate the difficulties of a way of life, and by making us aware of them, allow us to best prepare to meet them and overcome them.

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Two good interviews with Jerry Seinfeld

These two interviews appeared in the New York Times in October and August and I was impressed by both of them, especially the first one below:

Seinfeld is smart and insightful and professional. He knows comedy and stand-up well and he’s thought a lot about it.

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A reluctant promotion of a Kickstarter project: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones


Despite being burned too many times by Kickstarter projects, this one seems so worthwhile I feel I must promote it: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones — Kickstarter. It’s a great project to recreate a classic book, and it will be a boon to many people if it gets off the ground. Anyone interested in the visual arts should check it out and contribute some way if you can.

I hope it’s successful, that the project initiators have 1) their act together 2) actually release something tangible and 3) in a timely manner that is high quality.  (Many of my recent Kickstarter projects have failed at 1, 2 and 3.)

Good luck to them.

This is nerdtastic: Columbia’s limited edition “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” Collection


Yep. Columbia Sportswear has teamed up with the folks at Star Wars to produce this limited edition collection of clothing, and the details on it can be found here in this Design Milk article. Since it is a very limited collection, I expect that (A) it will sell out very quickly (B) the pieces will show up again for exorbitant prices on sites like eBay. Still…fun.  Cosplay people can get this and wear it all winter long! Good luck if you try and get it.

Who are The Frightful Five?


According to the New York Times, the Frightful Five are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company. What makes them frightening?

(The Frightful Five) have experienced astounding growth over the last few years, making them the world’s five most valuable public companies. Because they own the technology that will dominate much of life for the foreseeable future, they are also gaining vast social and political power over much of the world beyond tech.

These companies are getting alot more scrutiny lately. Any organization as wealthy and powerful as they are warrant it. Especially so because we aren’t even certain what impact they have on our societies. I hope the Times and other newspapers continue to give them focus and question their power. And I hope more writers like Scott Galloway examine what these companies do in books like the one he has just written. Most importantly, I hope you continue to seek out information on these companies and question how you interact with them, either directly or indirectly as a member of society.

The dark beauty of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno is made greater by the illustrations of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the work. You can find a number of his work over at this page of Brain Pickings, including this one:

Dore's Inferno

 George Saunders on writing

Yesterday I mentioned Robert Caro and his writing routine. Today, here’s a good piece by George Saunders and what writers really do when they write in The Guardian. Well worth a read.

A cautionary tale of what low taxes and libertarianism brings

Amish women on the beach
There can be many lessons that can be drawn from the story here: The Rise and Fall of the ‘Freest Little City in Texas’

The ones I drew were

  • You get the society you pay for. In this case, the people of this part of Texas were unwilling to pay for anything, and they got nothing in return. It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said in this age, but apparently it does.
  • Even basic services cost money. That money comes from taxes or service fees.
  • Those services are expensive to pay for individually: it makes much more sense for people to pool their money (in the form of taxes),  to make it cheaper overall for everyone.
  • Taxes are only part of what makes a society, but a society that is based on money and that does not have taxes is no society at all.
  • Only a society that does not depend on money can get away without taxes. Typically those a tightly knit,  cohesive, pre-money communities that depend heavily on sharing and barter. These communities are more socialist or communist in nature as opposed to libertarian. More like an Amish community or hippie commune or a religious community of some form.
  • The best way to have a libertarian society is to have one of great abundance. Scarcity requires people to share and work together if they want to survive.

It’s a good story. Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

(Photo above is Amish women on the beach)

Uber is reaching an inflection point (and may be reaching a crisis point)

Why? According to Bloomberg:

After touting profitability in the U.S. early this year, the ride-hailing company is said to post second-quarter losses exceeding $100 million.

A main source of the losses: subsidizing Uber drivers. As Christopher Mims commented on Twitter, “So Uber is a giant machine for transferring wealth from venture capitalists to underemployed Americans”. This is both clever and something that can’t go on indefinitely. It makes clearer to me now why Uber is keen to make self driving cars work. Sure, Uber could charge more for cabs or pay cab drivers less, but in either case, they risk losing market share.

The losses this quarter certainly are an inflection point. It remains to be see if it is a crisis point. That will depend on how the VCs see this loss. I believe they will have patience and they haven’t reached a crisis point yet. Uber should hope that their investors have the same patience that Amazon’s investors have.

For the rest of the story, see: Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016 – Bloomberg (Image above via the Bloomberg article)

On the rise and roots of our current minimalism

Minimalism is a foreign concept to some Westerners, especially as it is practiced in parts of Japan. Indeed, this line:

Fumio Sasaki’s one-room Tokyo apartment is so stark friends liken it to an interrogation room. He owns three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and a meagre scattering of various other items.

You see “interrogation room” and “meagre”, which gives you some insight into how this writer sees it. The article which this comes from (and which is linked to below) does get more insightful and you gain a better insight into Japanese minimalism, from its cultural roots to its practicality (such as the real problem of how earthquakes make home objects dangerous).

Minimalism seems to be growing as a cultural concept throughout the world, and it’s good to know more about it, how the Japanese see it, and to think about how it should differ in Western cultures. To do that, see:

Three shirts, four pairs of trousers: meet Japan’s ‘hardcore’ minimalists in The Guardian

Want to know why it is so expensive to get tickets to special events?

Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:

What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.

On declining ebook sales (two thoughts and some good material to consider)

If you are interested in books and ebooks in particular, you should read this: On the declining ebook reading experience. Two beliefs I have on this topic:

  1. Book sellers have become more competitive. In Canada, Indigo’s prices seem to be much lower and they sell books using low prices stamped prominently on the cover.
  2. He doesn’t say it, but the author hints that Apple should step in and make their own Kindle. I certainly would like to see Apple step up and make their own Kindle. The device and the user experience would be great, I am certain. It would blow the Kindle out of the water and likely make me switch over to becoming a bigger ebook reader.

 

The Greatness of Günter Grass

Grass died today. To read most of the pieces on him, you’d have a hard time imagining he was a great writer. So read this instead: The Greatness of Günter Grass in The New Yorker. It’s by another great writer, Salman Rushdie. It makes you appreciate the greatness of Grass.

Sure basil and tarragon are great, but what about marjoram?

Marjoram
I was in my local grocery store some time ago, and two of the produce staffers were talking about herbs. One of them commented that while tarragon did well and basil sold out, marjoram did not do so well and they might not stock it anymore.

I thought about this and did some random research. I found that while some of my older recipes had it as an ingredient, I don’t see it featured as much any more. (Same goes for paprika, which used to be used alot it seems, though seldom now, save in Martha Stewart’s recipes). Now it seems there is more focus on newer herbs and spices or “sweeter” herbs like basil.

It’s a shame, since marjoram is a very versatile herb. It’s less ‘sweet’ than basil or tarragon, but that makes it great in such things as an omelet. So now, several times a month, I’ll make an omelet with sauteed shallots, grated emmental cheese and some marjoram sprinkled in. Delicious.

(great photo of marjoram from Jade Craven’s photostream at flickr.com)

Feast for the eyes! Life photos archive hosted by Google

You can see it here: LIFE photo archive hosted by Google. (Thanks to kottke.org for the notice!)

Robert Lepage Brings His Magic to the Metropolitan Opera in NYC

Robert Lepage is bringing his brilliant stagecraft to the Met in New York with a production of “Faust”. I’ve seen LePage’s “Erwartung” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” and I thought they were exceptional, but he seems to be doing something really incredible with this production, as he intertwines the production with the voice and movement of the performers, so that the entire show interacts. You really want to read the article and see the video, so visit Techno-Alchemy at the Opera – Robert Lepage Brings His ‘Faust’ to the Met – NYTimes.com

I would love to see this show.

Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld talk shop

Time has a fascinating interview with Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld talking mostly about …Ford and his clothes. Lagerfeld is very generous with his praise of Ford. Ford also praises Lagerfeld, but really, he doesn’t need it: Karl is in a league of his own.

It’s interesting to hear them talk about the thinking that goes into their design. You might think mens wear is simply a matter of adjusting the number of buttons on a suit, but they are evolving the way men dress.

See Behind the Seams: Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld Talk Shop – America: Conquerer of the Global Menswear Market – TIME for the interview transcript. I would recommend you scroll down and watch the conversation between them: it’s good.

Martin Luther King and the influence of Star Trek

It is easy to mock the first Star Trek. To do so, however, would be to miss out on the importance and influence it had. Lots of technical people will tell you about how it influenced the way engineers and designers see the future. But it had a much bigger influence than that. How big? Listen to Nichelle Nichols explain:

Thanks to Matthew Yglesias for the link.

Neutron loans, or how the subprime disaster works

Over at bloomberg.com is a very simple explanation of how the subprime problem works it’s destructive effect:

Joe Ripplinger took out a $184,000 mortgage in 2006 and makes his payments every month. Now he owes $192,000. The 66-year-old Minneapolis house painter has a payment- option adjustable-rate mortgage. It allows him to write a check for $565 a month even though he owes $1,300. The difference is added to the mortgage, and when his total debt reaches $212,000, or after five years have passed, he said his monthly minimum could jump to about $2,800, which he can’t afford. “We’re barely making it right now,” Ripplinger said. The estimated 1 million homeowners with $500 billion of option ARMs are beyond the help of interest-rate cuts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. While subprime borrowers face an average increase of 8 percent or less when their adjustable- rate mortgages reset, option ARM homeowners may see their monthly payments double after their adjustments kick in. “We call them neutron loans because they’re like a neutron bomb,” said Brock Davis, a broker with U.S. Express Mortgage Corp. in Las Vegas. “Three years later the house is still there and the people are gone.”

ARMs are fine for speculators who know what they are doing and can handle the risk. For people like Joe Ripplinger, they are anything but fine. And there are alot of people like him out there. See: Bloomberg.com: Exclusive

Free Wi-Fi at Starbucks


According to the nytimes.com blog, Bits ,

Starbucks announced today it will give most any customer two consecutive hours a day of free Wi-Fi access. Specifically, that offer applies to anyone who uses its prepaid Starbucks Card at least once a month. That represents as many as 60 hours of access for the price of one $2 cup of coffee.

It’s interesting to think of Starbucks as a network service provider. It has the potential to open up lots of other business opportunities for them as well. See Bits for more info.

Lucient Freud at the MoMA

Currently the MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art in NYC) has a exhibit of Lucian Freud Etchings. For those not aware of Freud’s work, this could be a great introduction to it. And to fans of his (like my friend, Bruce!), this is a great opportunity to soak up more of his work. See  Lucian Freud: The Painter’s Etchings for all the details.

(Thanks to Occasional Oasis for the pointer).

Want to get published? nytimes.com has the story

The New York Times has a good summary on the various web sites offering publishing services in their article: Got a Manuscript? Publishing Now a Snap – New York Times. There are references to lulu.com, blurb.com and others.

If you have been always dying to see your work bound in hardcover, check out this article and then the sites they mention.

Masks for every day use / privacy in the 21st century

Over at Razor Apple is a feature on 11 Masked Hoodies to Hide Your Face. With the rise of more and more public cameras, there may be a trend to more fashion that (stylishly) covers the face.

Xing, academics and body language

Look at the pictures at the following URL: XING Corporate Information – Management

There is a relationship between a person’s title and their body language? Can you see what it is?

OLPC ‘Give One Get One’ Program Extended until the end of 2007!

TheCompiler blog from Wired.com has the story. Key information:

The One Laptop Per Child project’s “Give One Get One” offer has been extended through the end of the year, which means there’s still time to pick up an XO laptop for yourself and someone in a developing country.The promotional offer kicked off two weeks ago and was originally scheduled to end yesterday, November 26, but due to the demand it has been extended through the end of the year.

Boots and other luxuries (or how New York Manhole covers are made in India)

The Nytimes.com has a fascinating article: New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India

Some sample quotes:

Manhole covers manufactured in India can be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent cheaper than those made in the United States

And why is that. Could it be due partially to this:

“We can’t maintain the luxury of Europe and the United States, with all the boots and all that,” said Sunil Modi, director of Shakti Industries.

It reminds me of photographs of Europe in the 19th century.

A fantastic website dedicated to Gustav Klimt

A great flash presentation on The Life and Work of Gustav Klimt can be found at this site. Lots of his work here, from the famous like “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” to early portraits. A visually stunning site, which is most appropriate for this great painter.

Delud Luxury Blog: where the rich go for shopping ideas

If you are looking for the very best (or at least the most expensive), then you must visit Delud Luxury Blog. For example, the truffle you see in the photo is the Knipschildt’s “La Madeline au Truffe” with a price of $250 for a dark chocolate.

Me, I’ll be happy to eat the wonderful truffles at Simone Marie Belgian Chocolate here in Toronto. 🙂

Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer at the Art Institute of Chicago

In 2008, The Art Institute of Chicago will be putting on an exhibit of Edward Hopper (with a bonus exhibit of Winslow Homer going on as well). Here’s an idea of what you will see regarding Hopper:

The exhibition will be arranged chronologically and thematically, focusing on the work he executed in Gloucester and Truro, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. Approximately 50 oils and 30 watercolors, together with literature and history of the artist’s own time, will show Hopper’s place in the tradition of American realism and modernism. Edward Hopper and its companion exhibition, Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, will provide a survey of the American realist tradition and chart the growth of modern subject matter—from Homer, America’s first modernist, to Hopper, the nation’s best known 20th-century realist.

The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

The blog Your Daily Awesome often has some great posting. A recent one is The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

The libraries are stunning. You have to go see.

If by Kipling

You can find it here