Comments on the current crisis

I just canceled my subscription to the New York Times. I did it for two reasons. First, I’m cutting back on every possible expense following the melt down in the equity markets, and second it seems foolish to support an institution whose editorial policy is hell bent on further reducing what’s left of my assets. They are not doing it directly of course, no Times reporter has shown up at my door with a gun, badge and warrant demanding cash, but every day they are at it indirectly through calls for vast regulation and control of Wall Street.

While I will not miss the Times’ “anything those men are doing must be wrong” news coverage I will miss David Brooks’ column, the one bright ray in an otherwise tainted and bitter institution.

This week Brooks wrote about the near impossibility of government regulators anticipating a banking crisis like the one we are going through, even with advanced tools like counter cyclical reserving and microscopic ALM transparency.

I believe he is right, but given that the media has been driven into a psychotic incoherent rage, first over the popularity of Sara Palin (“How, How! HOW! could those those Republicans have a popular woman candidate!!!! How dare they! We had our own media created farce, and now they have one that’s better! Bastards!”) and then by the incomprehensibility of a credit crunch they really don’t understand but are absolutely convinced was done deliberately by people richer than they, to this there will be only one tolerable response: Criminalize more behavior.

That’s what regulation is, right?: Define certain activities as worthy of state sponsored sanction and damn it, just jail the greedy bankers, whomever they might be.

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Posted in The Annals of Protest | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tower Defense

I lost Saturday, Sunday and Monday to the cutest little game called Tower Defense. It completely mesmerized me for three days. I was told that during that period I hardly moved and there is no question that on Friday when I looked down to start playing it was morning, and when I again looked up, it was night. I haven’t been this engrossed in a game since Stronghold devoured weeks of my life back in 2002.

I found the game, which now is in version 1.5, on a web site called kongregate.com. Subsequently I found out that the game is available on a number of sites and that there is a thriving Tower Defense game community with their own web sites. Who knew?

The concept is simple: Kill moving creeps running through a rectangular box with blasts from stationary towers. The towers inflict damage on the increasingly virulent creeps as they run in two roughly symmetrical streams across a boxed field.  One stream of creeps originates from the top of the box, the other from the left, and they come in eight different forms with characteristics such as fast or slow, squiggly or tough.

The towers come in seven different forms and inflict different types of damage on the creeps, which change when the towers are combined by placing them in close proximity to each other. Some of the towers are more successful on certain types of creeps than others. You build towers by spending an initial bank of coin points which is replenished by creep kills. This makes the player focus on scarcity and choice while solving the 7^8 plus permutations of problems that unfold in the time dependent game (each wave of creeps begins its march at relentless intervals. This is at the core of the game’s mesmeric effect.)

When you lose – and you always lose – the game board is immediately blocked with a menu screen so you can’t examine the success of your tower configuration. This is a stroke of game design genius because you have to go back in and play again to test out your new ideas rather than examining the old, since you are not quite sure if that last tower, for example, was in the right place or not, and you can’t see exactly where it was anymore.

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Posted in Best Of, Gaming | Tagged , , | 5 Responses

Blogruptcy – It’s the metaphor

Matt Cornell has a great blog filled with ideas from his productivity consultancy. Right now he has an interesting debate going on about “Blogruptcy”, an offshoot of the “Email Bankruptcy” concept which suggests a radical extraction from the flood of information in our current age.

Matt wrote about information overload…

 

This is especially noticeable for RSS feeds, where there’s always more blogs, posts, and ideas. While talking about this with my friend and collaborator Tara Robinson (site, blog, book) she mentioned being ready to commit “blogruptcy,” a phrase with surprisingly few hits. The idea is simple, with steps as inspired by the original Lessig story Declare Email Bankruptcy:
  1. Unsubscribe from all your feeds.
  2. Try going feed-free for one [week | month].
  3. Evaluate: What did you really miss?
  4. Add those back in.
This is a fine practice, and I’m using it right now. It’s very often the case that most of the feeds aren’t crucial to our work/lives, and that we always have more than we need. This is in the general category of going on a media diet [1]. The only problem? It doesn’t work.

 

Matt went on for a number of paragraphs (including citations!) discussing issues in information overload, and describing workable solutions.

I replied to his post….

 

It’s the metaphor I believe the metaphor we are all trapped in is one of being out there on the shiny edge of an ever expanding bubble of posts. As content expands we fight to be on the periphery, to be on the immediacy of the expansion, and as that bubble grows the amount of territory we have to cover increases as well, just as the surface area of a sphere grows as it expands. If that is the metaphor, there is no other solution than to check out as we all are suggesting, unless you begin to think differently about the issue of immediacy. I would argue that the most recently written material on a subject is not necessarily the best and that if we think of all the content we are tracking not as on the film of a bubble but as in a pond (lake, sea…) filling over time, the issue becomes where do we fish, not how do we stand before the floodgates. I also think that as intellectual citizens of the blogsphere we serve a greater purpose by knitting together the best material in our metaphorical pond, rather than just re-reporting on the the latest half completed idea. Once you get off the edge of that bubble everything changes. Alright, enough of this. I have to get back and see what I missed in my Reader during the last five minutes. I’m sure it was crucial to something, somehow… Doug

 

 

Please stop by Matt’s site. He has a host of information about productivity and deep thinking about the new structures of our modern world. (and you can see his nice and thoughtful reply to my comment, in which he pushed the conversation even further.)

Posted in Best Of, Productivity | Tagged , | 3 Responses

Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal

Bill Peschel runs a very entertaining site called The Reader’s Almanac. It’s what he calls his “2008-2009 nonfiction book project. A year’s worth of entertaining and thought-provoking stories and anecdotes about writers and their books, tied to the day they occurred”.

His posts are intricate and thoughtful, much more so than the average 55 word blurbs of most blogs, as you would expect from a professional writer and journalist.

Since two of my earliest media influences (besides Saturday morning cartoons and the NASA moon shots) were Jean Shepherd on WOR radio and Bill Buckley on WNET, when Bill wrote about WFB in this week’s post it caught my attention.

He wrote…

 

Forty years ago, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley debated issues arising from the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where anti-war protesters battled police near the convention hall. During the third of their four debates, the politics became personal. Vidal and Buckley clashed over the protests. When moderator Howard K. Smith observed that the raising of the Vietcong flag in Grant Park was similar in effect to raising the Nazi flag during World War II, Gore objected. The U.S. had not declared war in Vietnam, many people object to the war, and besides, the protesters had a constitutional right to dissent. Buckley objected, again attacking the dissenters as Nazis. “As far as I’m concerned,” Vidal told him, “the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” “Now listen, you queer,” Buckley said, “stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in you goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”

 (snip… of a lot of good stuff you should go read)

Buckley sued Vidal and the magazine for libel, and settled out of court, with no public resolution of who was at fault. But elsewhere, it was clear that the queer beat down the crypto-Nazi at his own game.

 

I replied to this post…

 

>the queer beat down the crypto-Nazi at his own game. Probably not. Buckley’s persona and publishing institutions supported and provided frameworks for the right wing/conservative/republican/Christian (chose your term of derision) political movement that peaked with Reagan and is still echoing today. I think it is fair to say that the Obama phenomena is more a reaction against the movement that Bill (and Pricilla) Buckley fostered than any substance from Vidal’s circle. (Hence Obama’s lack of substance; he doesn’t need policy substance if his position is to be NOT the current stream.) I’d argue that that stream in large part flowed from NR and Firing Line and the right wing thinkers they supported. Regardless of how one feels about his politics – and the terms arrogant, elitist, monarchial, papist all fit – Buckley was a force that influenced politics for decades. The Vidal exchange and others like it didn’t sideline that juggernaut for a moment, and we are still dealing with the implications of that failure today. Doug

 

Bill Peschel’s site is well worth the daily read, and I’m not just saying that because he left me a nice reply. I hope you all stop by and test out his waters.

Posted in Best Of, Visionaries | Tagged , , | 4 Responses

MoMA goes ready to wear with Pre-Fab houses

Why don’t prefabricated houses seem to work?

Architects from Frank Lloyd Wright to Walter Gropius and inventors such as Thomas Edison and Buckminster Fuller have all tried their hand at perfecting domiciles manufactured the way we once manufactured cars, in a central location under the Fredric Taylor / Henry Ford methodology of mass production. But even with the power of all this visionary genius brought to bear on the problem, prefabricated dwellings have been an oddity in the modern world, often historical artifacts, or the results of a need for extreme utility.

This is the struggle that this Fall’s big show at the Museum of Modern Art, Home Delivery- Fabricating the Modern Dwelling tries to overcome. While artists of all types continue to be drawn to pre-fab as a design platform, so far nothing seems to have worked.

Beautifully assembled and intelligently curated, the MoMA show is, as always, a treat for the eyes and the mind. Big screen presentations of prefabrication pitches (aka commercials) from mid-century to today hang from the ceiling, and full scale replicas of pre-fabs are installed on the gallery floor. Intriguing models litter the space inviting viewers in as Lilliputian voyeurs, and in a lot outside on 54th Street four full scale pre-fabs beg us to ask the perennial home inspection question: “Honey, do you think our couch would look good by that window?” (Yes, we overheard that quite a few times on our visits)

On coming into the main gallery the MoMA asks us to believe that the balloon construction methods of North America (2×4 studs nailed into a frame and then covered with siding and sheet rock) is a form of prefabrication. This seems to be a stretch until you realize that 2×4’s and factory produced nails were significant standardization improvements over hand cut mortis and tendon construction methods.

Still, I tend to think of a pile of 2x4s more as no-fab then pre-fab, but the argument that nails are a form of building standardization is intriguing.

Since it was 2x4s and nails that were used in the expansion of the American West, this argument lets the show’s curators make their more relevant point that pre-fab is closely linked if not intricately tied to expansion, colonization, exploration and military occupation.

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Posted in Art, Best Of | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Responses

Writing tools – Journler

Someone asked me the other day “how can you be so careful about your writing, and still make so many mistakes?” Since the questioner was not an Obama supporter, I found it safe to assume she was talking about my grammar, not my content.

In a lighting quick reply I said, “It’s not easy. You have to work at it”.

What I should have said was, “It’s not easy you have to have a system”.

And I do. One of my crucial writting tools is an application called Journler. It has been with me from the start of my writing adventure, ever since I got my Mac, and it is the primary reason why I’m sure I’ll never again go back to a Windows machine. There just is nothing comparable in the vast sea of Windows applications to Journler. Although I find this surprising, I don’t really care, because while Journler brought me to the Mac I have since learned that there are a number of other reasons to use OS X as a writing platform in addition to the functionality in Journler. So this looks like a one way trip.

Journler is a notebook, datebook, cataloger, research collector, document organizer, and, yep, a journal, all in an deceptively simple application. The front end of the app allows you to add meta data like category and tags, labels and flags to rich text entries and then sort, folder and edit these entries using manual or smart screens.

In other words its just like the handwritten Moleskins I kept for years but in a format that I can actual use to synthesize rough work into something useful.

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Posted in Productivity | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Responses