Tuesday, July 31, 2007

tik tok

The Tale of the One Thousand Signs
Hans Ulrich Obrist : Pierre Huyghe
Parkett 66 2002

Luc (Stuls):

Robots do not comprehend notions of time differentiation (such as past, future, imperfect), which are incredibly subtle notions that are implicit to our languages. So we try to make them formulate concepts of time differentiation and time description, to make them invent words that allow them to speak about time among themselves. The idea is to see whether, through these iterative language games, robots can begin to conceptualise time on a general level.

Derrida on Artaud

bought an old issue of magazine littéraire on Artaud in Paris last summer, which included an interview with Derrida (was trying to translate & found myself writing 'a movement of identificatory projection', the head is not clever):

Si j'essaie de me rappeler la première fois que le nom d'Artaud a résonné pour moi, ce fut sans doute à travers une lecture de Blanchot qui renvoyait à la Correpondance avec Jacques Rivière. J'ai lu alors ces lettres d'Artaud et, par un mouvement de projection identificatoire, je me suis trouvé en sympathie avec cet homme qui disait qu'il n'avait rien à dire, que rien ne lui était dicté en quelque sorte, alors que pourtant l'habitaient la passion, la pulsion de l'écriture et sans doute déjà de la mise en scène. Che,in faisant -- et là je parle du temps long, des années, des décennies aue on suivi --, j'ai dû toujours chercher à penser ce que cette experience du "ne rien avoir à dire" avant d'écrire avait d'essentiel pour toute écriture. ...

Pourquoi donc cette identification de jeunesse à Artaud? J'ai commencé dans mon adolescence (elle a duré longtemps, jusqu'à trente-deux ans..., à vouloir passionnément écrire, sans écrire, avec ce sentiment de vide : je sais qu'il faut que j'écrive, que je veux écrire, que j'ai à écrire, mais au fond, je n'ai rien à dire que ne commence à ressembler à quelque chose qui a déjà été dit. Quand j'avais quinze ans, seize ans, je me rappelle, j'avais ce sentiment d'être protéiforme -- c'est un mot que j'ai découvert chez Gide, et qui me plaisait beaucoup. Je pouvais prendre n'importe quelle forme, écrire sur n'importe quel ton dont je savais que jamais ce n'était vraiment le mien ; je répondais à ce qu'on attendait de moi ou bien je me retrouvais dans le miroir que me tendait l'autre. Je me disais : je peux tout écrire et donc je ne peux rien écrire. C'est là que se creusait ce vide que je croyais reconnaître chez Artaud. Comme si je le disais : au fond je ne suis rien, je peux être n'importe qui, je peux prendre telle ou telle posture et donc quelle est ma voie (ma voix)? ... Et encore maintenant, avant chaque texte que j'écris, mutatis mutandis, c'est le même blanc, le même désespoir, le même sentiment d'impouvoir -- "j'arriverai jamais..." -- ; même pour des choses très modestes, quatre pages.

magazine littéraire, No. 434, Septembre 2004

Monday, July 30, 2007

the invisible hand

my podcast from tyler cowen, the medium is the message -- comments to follow

Lousy Anti-Semites

I came across a site which purports to answer this question: How walkable is your house? Was instantly suspicious. Typed my mother's former address into Walkscore's blank. Ha! Walkscore includes Grocery Stores, Restaurants, Coffee Shops, Bars, Movie Theatres -- well, the list goes on and on and on, but do we see Synagogues on the list? We do not.

As it happens, my mother's house on Cypress Place was something like a half-mile walk to the nearest synagogue -- a half-mile walk down a highway with occasional sidewalks. You wouldn't know this from Walkscore.

To be fair, Walkscore also fails to include churches and mosques in the walkability score. You could argue that they're not antisemitic, they're just typical consumerist atheists. The idea that anyone might consider going to a religious service of ANY denomination was just too extreme. There are fundamentalist ravagers of the planet, yes, but they're not the kind of people who would worry about the ozone layer; if they engage in organised religion they're obviously ALSO the kind of people who would leap into a gas-guzzling SUV without a second's thought.

That's one way of looking at it. The fact remains that observant Jews do not ride on the Sabbath. An observant Jew, thinking about where to live, will be more interested in whether a synagogue is within walking distance than in whether a coffee shop, bar or movie theatre is within walking distance, because there are no constraints on mode of transportation to coffee shop, bar or movie theatre. So Walkscore is completely useless to a group of Americans (the site seems to be confined to American addresses) who do in fact take walkability into account in deciding where to live.

We can certainly argue that there's a larger idiocy at work, since rather a lot of Americans claim to believe in God. But there is one religion which requires its practitioners to walk to services once a week, as well as on a glorious multiplicity of religious festivals. Sadly, a religion beneath the radar of Walkscore.


I'm at Yorckschlößchen. I check e-mails. My personalised podcast from Tyler Cowen has come!

I can't listen to the pp at Yn. I'm agog.

Actually I'm not sure I can bring myself to listen to it.

As long as I don't listen to it I can go on thinking there's a solution. A realio-trulio economist can find a solution where I keep walking into walls.

Can Howard Obliviate Haneef?

"Australia will not be apologising to Dr Haneef," Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney.

"Dr Haneef was not victimised and Australia's international reputation has not been harmed by this 'mis-start' to its new anti-terrorism laws."

Mr Howard said he supported the AFP and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who revoked Dr Haneef's visa earlier this month, just hours after a Brisbane court had granted him bail.

Despite the collapse of the case, Mr Andrews has refused to reinstate the visa unless the Indian national's lawyers successfully appeal against the decision in the Federal Court.

In a paid interview for the Nine Network's 60 Minutes last night, Dr Haneef said he was never a risk to Australia and would have dobbed in his relatives had he known they were plotting attacks in Britain.

But Mr Andrews was unmoved.

"Nothing that I saw in the interview with Dr Haneef changed my mind as to the suspicions and doubts that I have about the matter," he told ABC Radio today.

[paperpools interprets:

The man is a highly suspicious colour. In Australia, 'Let's go to the beach' is our happy-go-lucky motto. A real Australian goes to the beach and gets a tan. A prerequisite for getting a tan is not being brown in the first place! What legitimate reason could a man who is already brown have for coming to Australia?

The interview confirmed my earlier suspicions as to the brownness of the man; you just have to look at him to see that he would be out of place on a beach and could only want to come to the Best Country in the World to plant bombs. A real Australian would have suffered serious tan loss from 4 weeks in jail, and we would never do that to a man; if you look at Dr Haneef, you'll notice that he is the same colour now that he was when he went in. Australia is not going to apologise to a man who has no tan to maintain. No worries.]

Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday, July 29, 2007

homemade flamethrower

Video of Nadine killing fruitflies with DIY flamethrower (lighter plus hairspray) on TAR ART RAT, a technique used by some of the security-conscious defenders of democracy on alleged threats to democracy.


Article in the Observer on Bisher al-Rawi, a British resident who had worked with MI5 and was then kidnapped by US agents and taken to Guantanamo, where he spent 4 years.

In a remarkable interview for The Observer, British resident Bisher al-Rawi has told how he was betrayed by the security service despite having helped keep track of Abu Qatada, the Muslim cleric accused of being Osama bin Laden's 'ambassador in Europe'. He was abducted and stripped naked by US agents, clad in nappies, a tracksuit and shackles, blindfolded and forced to wear ear mufflers, then strapped to a stretcher on board a plane bound for a CIA 'black site' jail near Kabul in Afghanistan.

Chilling Coke

How to chill Coke in 2 minutes. SPOILER: put ice and water in a bowl, add salt.

I used to chill Diet Cokes by putting them in the freezer. The odds were: cold Coke 90%; muted explosion from fridge: 10%.

Chill A Coke In 2 Minutes! - video powered by Metacafe

Raccoon Steals Carpet

When I first left academia to become a writer I lived in Newfane, Vermont in a cottage in the woods that had belonged to my grandfather. I worked a 3-9 shift in the deli at the Vermont Store down the hill; at night I would bring back hot dogs and hand them over to the raccoons that used to come to the door. This video clip brought it all back.

Racoon Steals Carpet - Funny bloopers are a click away

Bivariate Baseball Plot

Rafe Donahue, a biostatistician at the University of Vanderbilt, has sent me a link to an interactive website that uses the statistical graphic program R to produce a bivariate baseball plot. Devised in collaboration with Tatsuki Koyama, Jeffrey Horner and Cole Beck (as Rafe as pointed out in the comments), it works like this:

The user selects the team and year in which s/he is interested

then goes on to select from: Day of the Week, Opponent Team

Opponent League, Day/Night, Starting Pitcher

(I know readers have seen drop-down menus before, but they are not usually this much fun), Opponent Starting Pitcher, Home/Away, Pitcher with Decision, Opponent Pitcher with Decision, Month, or First/Second Half .

R then produces a bivariate plot displaying the results:

As you'll have noticed from the menus, you can then print out your graphic as a PDF.

The Baseball Scoreplot blog explains how to read a baseball bivariate score plot, discusses known issues and analyses the graphic Rafe generated for the Astros, with Roger Clemens as starting pitcher

The Astros’ opponents’ marginal distribution (on the left) shows how teams fare against teams that beat them: their average rpg is just over 3.5 rpg compared with nearly 4.5 rpg for the Astros. Where the Astros were held to 1 run 27 times, their opponents were held to 1 or fewer on 42 occasions. Note that Clemens started 2 games that were shutouts and started 11 games where the opponents were held to fewer than 2 runs. He also started a game where the opponents scored 9 runs.

The joint distributions reveals details of Clemens’ abysmal run support. The bottom-left corner of the distribution shows five games which Clemens started in which the Astros lost 1-0, a pitcher’s nightmare. So, of the 11 games that Clemens started and the opponents were held to one run, 5 of those games failed to produce a single Houston run. In fact, Clemens was the only Astros pitcher to start a game in which the team lost 1-0.
(Graphic available on blog.)

We never see this kind of thing in fiction.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

where did it all go wrong, Ilya? i tried so haaaaaaaard

Perhaps once in a generation, the science of criticism is shaken by a conceptual breakthrough so revolutionary that the literary establishment can only dismiss it as deluded quackery. Such a breakthrough is described in these pages. If I draw comparisons with Darwin, Einstein, Lysenko, the sceptical reader may smile. Yet they laughed at Leavis; they creased themselves pink at Edmund Wilson; they barfed up gobs of lung tissue at Derrida's Of Grammatology. To all such shallow-minded so-called "scientists" I say: go ahead and hoot! The High Speed Train of progress makes no unscheduled stops to pick up late travellers, nor can it be tilted in its tracks.

The failure of the old paradigm is simple. There's a curious bias in the vernacular of critical discussion towards the qualities that make a book good. Most of the language traditionally used to describe a book's achievement has to do with its positive qualities: the plot, characterization, style, ideas, significance. Moreover, it's a bias that carries over into all those gruesome handbooks on How To Write Totally Brilliant Novels and Win Big Cash Literary Prizes. The reason nobody's yet become a big time novelist by reading up on Diane Doubtfire is just that all the advice in such booklets is directed towards getting you to write a book full of plot, characterization, style, ideas, significance. in short, a good book.

Now, it strikes me that this is completely misconceived. You've only got to look around you to realize that most books that get published are NOT good. This simple point makes a nonsense of conventional criticism, which lacks any sort of vocabulary to discuss badness in any meaningful way. And yet badness is the dominant quality of contemporary literature, and certainly of SF. All orthodox criticism can say of a truly awful book is that the characterization is terrible, or the use of the English language makes your bowels move of themselves. It fails completely to grasp that bad writing is governed by subtle rules and conventions of its own, every bit as difficult to learn and taxing to apply as those that shape good writing. But do you ever find workshops offering instruction in how to write the sort of really atrocious garbage that leers at you from every railway bookstall?

words of advice from Nick Lowe, in his classic article The Well-Tempered Plot Device

ausgeschlossen again

Got locked out of the apartment again. Discovered strange fact about the neighbourhood.

For 49 euros (10% off for online booking) you can get a single room at chi-chi Sarotti with free Internet access, TV, radio, iron, all mod cons.

For 62 euros you can get a single room at Hotel Transit, a weirdly overpriced hostel in Hagelbergerstrasse: ambience that of a humane prison.

For a special 3-night August booking you can get a single at the very grand Riehmers Hotel in Yorckstrasse for 63 euros (normal price 98 euros).

The question I naturally ask myself is: is Sarotti moneylaundering?

(What happened: Sarotti was full (natürlich) so I got a single at the Transit for 40 euros by agreeing to be out by 8am.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

that clinking clanking sound again

Turns out the nasty calculating economist who takes all the fun out of magic has a blog -- but it's anonymous because she was getting hate mail on a previous blog, presumably from the kind of person who thinks she is only interested in pieces of paper and shiny things and so should be exterminated. She has asked for those who know her identity not to blow her cover. The blog is now in the sidebar with the other links. (I think this satisfies the standards of discretion specified.)

meanwhile back in the real world

Paradoxically, it is precisely the meager financial aid outlays of endowment-rich colleges and universities that make the true miserliness of low payout practices most apparent. Stanford University spends $76 million on undergraduate financial aid, a sum that sounds generous but amounts to a mere 0.5 percent of the value of its endowment. The university spends just 4 percent of its $14 billion endowment toward operating expenses. If the 5 percent payout rule required Stanford to spend another 1 percent of its endowment, and that money was directed toward financial aid, students would enjoy $211 million in additional support. That is precisely the cost of letting all 6,600 Stanford undergraduates attend tuition-free.

from a piece by Lynne Munson on student debt at InsideHigherEd.com

a commenter gave a link to this piece by Phillip Greenspun arguing for tuition-free-MIT

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Economics of HP

A reader in Israel says I should refrain from discussing HP until the international readership of this blog has had a chance to read the book. I then came across a link on Marginal Revolution to an analysis of the economics of the world of HP (Megan McArdle, Guardian July 20). Hm.

Readers who think an article on the economics of magic spoils the fun should not read McArdle. Some unwary Guardian readers seem to have blundered into the article without knowing what they were getting into; the heading

Harry Potter: the economics

Successful magical worlds depend on basic economic principles, and that's where JK Rowling's Harry Potter falls short.

led them astray. Their loss is your gain:

Commenter 713317

You poor woman. Your question is the answer to itself.

You are about things. You want things. You want pieces of paper with high denominations stamped on them. You want shiny vehicles. You want a castle.

You have a very small mind and, as a consequence, a very small world view.

If a person can do magic, why would they want physical things? If a person know the secrets of the universe, of what interest are mere physical objects?

The reason magical people are usually portrayed as poor is because they are mentally about 10 levels above the rat or squirrel like acquisitiveness that is characteristic of most human beings. A rat or a squirrel mindlessly acquire physical objects and bring them back to the nest. Nobody really knows why. They just do.

I think this is a terrible article.

Why do people have to try and destroy everything. Could you imagine if some little kid just wanted to go to McDonald's once for an ice cream? Can you imagine what this writer would say? Save it for another occasion. It's just not appropriate to talk about a book like this in this way.

[and so on]

So. If you can imagine some little kid wanting to go to McDonald's for an ice cream, savaged by a nasty, calculating Economist economist who only wants pieces of paper, shiny vehicles and a castle, you will probably NOT read the article wanting to read everything McArdle ever wrote, wondering why you never heard of her and wishing she would turn her hand to fiction, and you will probably also not read Jane Dark's review pairing HP & the order of the phoenix with Joe Strummer: the future is unwritten (British Prep School Boys Against Evil) wishing more film reviewers knew their Fredric Jameson. Wir sind für Sie da. Ihr Paperpools Team.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Inner Economist personalised podcast

Tyler Cowen on Marginal Revolution is offering a personalised podcast to everyone who pre-orders his book, Discover Your Inner Economist. The deal: you pre-order the book, you send TC an e-mail telling him you have done so and asking a question. He will then record a personalised podcast answering or at least attempting to address the question, which you can disseminate, post, link to...

I've been spending the last 11 years trying to persuade agents and editors that it would make good economic sense for intellectual profiles of editors to be made available (at least to me, at best more generally). I have put it in economic terms because publishing is supposedly about making money; I'd like to work with people I respect, but I think if they would humour me and give me decent information they'd make money. I have got absolutely nowhere with this -- but it occurred to me, seeing TC's offer, that perhaps a popularising economist would have better luck.

I've therefore sent him an e-mail. My guess is that he has grossly underestimated the response he'd get to the offer (the Marginal Revolution site seems to have gone down). At any rate, if you have a question you'd like answered in a personalised podcast, the book can be pre-ordered on Amazon here and the e-mail should be sent to tylersbook AT gmail DOT com.

obliviating ilya

a commenter on HP7 on making light explains

For US readers: pretty much every soap opera and TV serial in the UK, when they want to get rid of a character but hold open the possibility of their return, will have that character "move to Australia". (In Australian soaps, the character will move to Perth)

which is why ilya gridneff basks in the land of eternal sunshine and chlamydiac koalas

another commenter:

Chapter 6:
"I've also modified my parents' memories so that they're convinced they're really called Wendell and Monica Wilkins blah blah Australia blah emotion."

Chapter 9:
"You're the boss," said Ron, sounding profoundly relieved. "But I've never done a Memory Charm." // "Nor have I," said Hermione, "but I know the theory."

Elsinore Sewing Club

I read a post on Whimsley on modest heroism which mentioned the story of the village of Eyam, which is said to have sealed itself up when afflicted by the bubonic plague so that the plague could not get out and kill others. A commenter on the blog responded to this uplifting tale with scepticism -- if we knew the facts we would probably find either that several villagers escaped or that it simply wasn't worth their while to put themselves at risk of anti-plague hysteria by leaving -- such group self-sacrifice was incredible. (My ex-husband used to tell me stories about the shrewd businessmen of his grandfather's generation. I read this sequence of comments and was filled with nostalgia.)

I was about to weigh in with other well-attested stories of self-sacrifice, and the first that came to mind was the story of the Danish king Christian X wearing a yellow star when Danish Jews were ordered to wear one -- an example followed by all Danes. It then occurred to me that this was a story I'd been told by my mother.


I look around online to see whether there is any evidence for the story and find that it is apparently apocryphal. Warresisters.org has an account of the (absence of) evidence for the story. It also includes this account of the resistance in fact offered by the Danes, including the efforts of the Elsinore Sewing Club:

What really happened in Denmark in the fall of 1943, however, is a better story. When Germany violated a non-aggression treaty and invaded Denmark in 1940, the Danish government surrendered almost without fighting. The Germans announced a �protectorate� aimed against Britain and France and promised not to interfere with Denmark�s internal affairs, including local government. In return Denmark collaborated to some extent with Germany, allowing Danish agriculture and industry to aid the German war effort. As a result, an uneasy peace prevailed (most of the time) for the first three years of the occupation. During that period the Jews in Denmark lived relatively normal lives.

That state of affairs ended in August of 1943. By then it looked as though Germany might lose the war, and political strikes, industrial sabotage and other forms of active resistance were rising sharply. The German occupation authorities demanded that the Danish government crack down on all opposition with draconian laws. The Danes refused, and the government resigned en masse. The Germans then declared martial law and secretly prepared, among other things, to capture all Jews within Denmark for deportation to foreign concentration camps. They planned for the Jews to go literally overnight from relative freedom to slavery and then to death. There would be no intermediate period of ghettoization�and no yellow star.

At that point a brave act of nonviolent resistance was committed, not by the King of Denmark, but by a German civilian. Georg Duckwitz was an occupation official in charge of shipping Danish goods to wherever the Germans needed them. He had urged the Nazi leadership both in Copenhagen and in Berlin to take no action against Danish Jews, arguing (correctly) that it would cause unrest and harm the war effort. Despite taking that pragmatic line with the Nazis, Duckwitz did feel moral revulsion against the "final solution." When he learned the date planned for the round-up of the Jews--October 1, the eve of Jewish New Year--he passed the news to Danish political leaders, who, he thought (again correctly), would spread the warning. That night, when Nazi squads went to every Jewish address, the vast majority of their prey were not at home. Instead of nearly 8,000, they captured only 202 Jews--some who had not received the warning, some who didn't believe it and a few who simply refused to run.

Where were the Jews of Denmark? For the most part they were hiding with non-Jewish neighbors. There are innumerable stories of both friends and strangers who took in whole families, despite the very real danger to themselves and much uncertainty as to the future. Although there were Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites among the Danish people, they were a small minority. Most Danes, practical people, had yielded to power and accommodated the Germans up to a point. But there was a line they would not cross�and more, a point for many where they had to resist. Deporting fellow citizens who happened to be Jewish to prison and death was not something they would passively allow to happen.

And resist they did. During the month of October 1943, more than 7,000 people--most of them Jews, but some non-Jewish relatives and "wanted" resistance figures--crossed the �resund to Sweden, where they had been promised refuge. This massive evacuation was not ordered by the king, nor was it organized by any government body. Hundreds of people spontaneously acted to organize or assist with the escapes, either from humanitarian motives or from the simple desire to thwart the German enemy.

One example among many of this resistance is that of the "Elsinore Sewing Club". The group was organized by several friends who had all quietly accepted the occupation until that October. The "club" arranged transportation to Sweden for hundreds of Jews, using hired fishing boats, sealed railroad freight cars being ferried to Sweden and, later on, boats of their own. After October they continued to operate, helping resistance fighters and downed Allied air crews reach safety. They fooled the Germans most of the time--but not always. In the end several members of the "sewing club" paid with their own lives.

The wrong sort of rain

"There's no such thing as an orderly queue at the moment."

Abingdon sees the end of civilisation as we know it. The Guardian describes the horror here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

i+e again

An e-mail has arrived from John Chris Jones, author of The Internet and Everyone (described in an earlier post):

dear Helen,

while dipping into the google response to "john chris jones"
(14 500 entries) i chanced upon your page re i+e of July 17 2007!


i'm encouraged - thank you - and i liked your description of myself - i'm getting used to being the oldest person in the room

did you know that the book can be bought by mail order for £10 plus postage and packing from Tracey Moberly (now married to Jonathan Moberly) at the Foundry:

[No, this is news to me. One reader of paperpools has already bought a copy of i+e off Amazon and wonders how he ever lived with out it; those who would like to buy a copy without waiting for me get my stock out of storage can now order one from Tracey.

For those new to the topic, John Chris Jones is the author Design Methods, a pioneering work on design; he was invited by ellipsis to write a book about the Internet and wrote one that is like no book you've ever seen.]

http://www.softopia.demon.co.uk/2.2/internet_and_everyone.html gives reviews of i+e and and a place to order a copy -- or you can write directly to tracey AT myshop DOT me DOT uk.

Diaspora, Empire

Languagehat has a wonderful post on the Assyrians of Urmia here, drawing on an article by Arianne Ishaya on Nineveh.com.

I have a look at Nineveh.com and see this

and the site is immediately filed in the mental folder Barthes, thou shouldst be living at this hour -- a folder previously monopolised by materials from Read Hebrew America sent me courtesy of Haaretz

Since some readers may have missed out on Mythologies and may also have missed out on the Pompidou Barthes retrospective in 2003, I remind you that Barthes brought the guns of semiology to bear on

of which he said

.. je suis chez le coiffeur, on me tend un numéro de Paris-Match. Sur la couverture, un jeune nègre vêtu d'un uniforme français fait le salut militaire, les yeux levés, fixés sans doute sur un pli du drapeau tricolore. Cela, c'est le sens de l'image. Mais naïf ou pas, je vois bien ce qu'elle me signifie: que la France est un grand Empire, que tous ses fils, sans distinction de couleur, servent fidèlement sous son drapeau, et qu'il n'est de meilleure réponse aux détracteurs d'un colonialisme prétendu, que le zêle de ce noir à servir ses prétendus oppresseurs.
(I'm at the barber, they give me a copy of Paris-Match. On the cover, a young black wearing the French uniform makes a military salute, eyes raised, undoubtedly fixed on a fold of the three-coloured flag [whose red, white and blue are, of course the same three colours as those of the Stars and Stripes, though the Red White and Blue signifies, of course, something quite different from Le Tricolore. HD]. That's the [surface meaning] of the image. But naif or not, I see very well what it signifies to me: that France is a great empire, that all her sons, without distinction of colour, serve faithfully under her flag, and that there is no better reply to the critics of a supposed colonialism, than the zeal of this black to serve his supposed oppressors.)
(But I think Baudrillard and Mauss might offer the best way of understanding the book biz, my own little private problem)

Jerry Hadley

Alex Frey's close friend, the tenor Jerry Hadley, shot himself with an air rifle last Tuesday and died July 18. Alex is organising the New York tribute to Hadley. The Guardian has an obituary here.

Clip Rage

Language Log has a post on the animated paperclip that has brought us so much joy, courtesy of Michael Kaplan.

Publishing Insider Comes Out

Young writers often talk to me about getting published, and something they often say is: 'Couldn't I offer to accept a smaller advance in return for publishing the book I actually wrote? I'd like to take the Trans-Siberian Railway/write another book/learn Mongolian, drink mares' milk, live in a yurt/write another book/go to the Cabaret & explore totalitarianism & sexual perversion/write another book/spend a year at the monastery on Mt Athos/write another book' - i.e. do some things with my life other than sit in a room with a keyboard.

THIS book, the thought is, the one written with no money in the interstices of paid employment, is somewhat claustrophobic, it's very bookbound, because it was written when I had no money, spent all my time in a room with a keyboard, and knew the world only through books. Why can't we just agree that it has faults but it shows I can write, if someone will just give me a few thousand dollars I can go off and see the world and do something interesting with my talent, and the next book will be better because the money will have freed up my time to do interesting things and write about them in a focused way, instead of in the interstices of paid employment?

The young writer is under the impression that s/he is offering the publisher a good deal: a busy editor will not have to spend overcommitted time tinkering with the book, it can just be sent straight to the printer while the cheque is sent to the deserving young author who can swan out the door and book a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Those who think all books should resemble 1. The Trial, 2. Waiting for Godot, or 3. The Lottery of Babylon will think this very shortsighted, there is a serious danger that in getting out and seeing the world the young writer will stray outside the Golden Triangle. Those who stretch a point -- it's OK if a book is neither Kafkaesque, Beckettian nor Borgesian, because Pinter, Bernhard, Robbe-Grillet and Butor have much to offer -- will still think it shortsighted.

Most editors do not, as it happens, think character, plot, eventfulness deplorable lapses which must be stamped out of modern fiction at all costs. What they do think, though, is that tinkering with other people's books is the fun part of the job; if you deprive an editor of the opportunity to cover a MS with comments, you have stripped away the only thing that gives meaning to the job. 'We're not photocopiers.' 'Publishers are not printers.' The suggestion that the book the author wrote should be shown to the public is outrageous -- agents will be just as outraged by it as any editor.

In other words, whether editorial comments are or are not of value to the book under consideration, the business of taking them on board does incalculable damage to the book's successors. This is never taken into account, and so the handful of writers who take the Trans-Siberian Railway are vastly outnumbered by the writers who spend their time mired down in dealings with the publishing industry.

When I explain this to newcomers they find it counter-intuitive. Wouldn't a book about adventures on the Trans-Siberian Railway be more interesting, more likely to sell, than a book about sitting around in a room with a keyboard waiting for agent/editor/copy-editor & the rest of the gang to get back to the keyboard-bound? and isn't it a business? isn't it about making money? -- and if it's about making MONEY, and if the EDITOR doesn't see this, surely I have only to explain this point to an AGENT, whose JOB it is to make money for ME?

Well, what can I say? Don't take my word for it. Nathan Bransford, an agent at the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown, has a blog on which he has just revived a guest post from March on What an Editor Does. Those of us who like the sound of the Trans-Siberian Railway + yurts + Cabaret + sexual perversion in the face of Nazi Evil + Mount Athos might think if this is what an editor does the thing an agent might usefully do is curb the editor's propensity to waste an author's time. The fact that Bransford has posted this piece of nonsense not once, but twice, will suggest, I think, that market forces are not the author's friend in quite the way very young writers tend to suppose.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I've been trying for years to write a novel presenting mathematical ways of thinking about chance. I think most non-mathematicians' minds go numb if even one little equation appears on the page, so it's better to use graphics. There's an open-source statistical package, R, that has good graphics (there's a link to the R Gallery in the sidebar).

Since R is open-source, it is HIDEOUSLY time-consuming to learn independently. Having installed the software one then downloads various PDFs offering Introductions to R, works doggedly through the PDFs, blunders cluelessly through the maze of FAQs and Help, buys and works doggedly through books such as Data Analysis and Graphics Using R (Maindonald and Braun) and R Graphics (Paul Murrell), occasionally sending apologetic pleas for enlightenment by e-mail to those in the know. Statisticians tend to feel that both statistics and statisticians are strangely underrepresented in fiction, so very distinguished statisticians are startlingly helpful, but still one is blundering about -- all this while trying to deal with people in the movie biz, the book biz, any other biz. So the project kept getting disrupted, and each time it got disrupted it was necessary to go back to the beginning and start from scratch. In September 2005 I applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship for the project, in March 2006 I was told I'd got it, but same old same old same old, many wonderful people thought I had better things to do with my time and so it goes.

Here are a few graphics from R from one of my many PDFs:


What I mean is, although I did pitch the project to the Guggenheim as a way of permitting fiction to show us the structures of power in the world -- the world of finance, which permeates all lives, has been transformed in the last 20 years by the development of financial instruments such as options, futures and derivatives, which could (but don't) transform our understanding of chance, of risk, in daily life -- I really just wanted an excuse to write a book using the sort of graphics I had come across in Jim Pitman's probability, which I found utterly delectable. The R Gallery offers many more examples of delectability. My response to these graphics is like an illustration of Ayer's yah-boo emotivist theory of value, it's like the average Stern-reader's response to dear little Knut (and dear unjustly neglected little Ernst): Awwwwwwww. Awwwwwwwww. Awwwwwwwww.

What can I say? I LIKE a page of tiny histograms. I LIKE Tuftean sparklines (not that you can do them in R, but this is another problem.) I LIKE -- no, to be perfectly honest, I ADORE a panel of tiny boxplots. Awwwwwwwwwwww.

Well. Poor old head. Poor old head.

Two and a half years ago I had a lot of problems with an agent and a film director. The film director was "passionate" about making a film of The Last Samurai but had been thwarted in his efforts to proceed because, um, it is impossible to locate a writer on the planet if the writer has not taken the precaution of setting up a website. Instead of doing what Kurosawa would have done (find the author and camp out on her doorstep) he had chosen to talk passionately about the book to his agent at William Morris and to other agents at William Morris. An agent at WM to whom he had talked passionately got in touch with me after I got in touch with them, offered to represent me, started wheeling and dealing, turned out to know nothing about the publication history of The Last Samurai because, um, the writer had not taken the precaution of setting up a website.

Bad news, bad news, bad news, I thought I had better set up a website. A friend had a friend. The friend's friend set up a website, yes, but she liked Flash so she set it up in Flash. She thought text was boring, converting Word documents to HTML was unfun, so she put all the reviews and text on the site as downloads, all surfers' pet hate.


Things went wrong with the agent and the director, another story. The website has been there for two and a half years, and because it was too hi-tech for its owner it has been dead. This blog, of course, is very lo-tech. The blog has been going for just under 4 months, and it has had over 150 posts, and it has a shockingly cluttered sidebar that will only get worse -- in fact, it has all kinds of material that would really work much better on a website, but it all goes on the blog because the blog is lo-tech and requires no social interaction, no negotiation, no give-and-take as a prerequisite to posting.


Getting a Guggenheim Fellowship -- getting any fellowship, for that matter -- is quite time-consuming. My application took a month to write. One has to write up the project, write up a CV, persuade three or four distinguished people to take time away from their own work to write in support of the project. It's tiring, it's time-consuming, but it's straightforward: you are trying to convince your peers that you will write a work of genius.

Getting a book published is quite a different matter. If the book is doing something new, especially if it is doing something which falls foul of cultural prejudice (most novel readers DO NOT like mathematics), a lot of stage-setting needs to be done to persuade agents and publishers that it should be shown to the public. Something needs to be done to -- well, this is actually quite tricky. It would be good to do something to persuade the time-pressed sceptic that thousands of readers could see a page of tiny histograms and say AWWWWWWW. But it would also be good to give this time-pressed sceptic some way of seeing how the book is radically new, important... Point is, this is a much more challenging rhetorical exercise than persuading distinguished writers and critics that you will write a work of genius. THAT took a month. THIS is something you might need to refine for six months, a year, maybe as long as it takes to write the actual book. So you need a very lo-tech website that you can keep going back to. (If you are ALSO trying to persuade both publishers and the reading public that they would like to learn Arabic... let's just say that this too needs a lot of groundwork.)


[HOW long this is.]

If someone has put a lot of work into a project, as my last web designer did into the website, it is socially awkward to take him or her off the project. If this can be done quite simply and cleanly -- if all the images and files are on the server -- it may be possible to do it without a lot of friction. If it is necessary to ask that person to provide a CD with all the files, or to upload files to the server, it will take an enormous amount of social savoir faire, an enormous amount of emotional energy. BUT dealing with agents and publishers takes up such a staggering amount of social labour, there is really nothing left for this kind of task. If the files are not on the server available for use, practically speaking everything will have to be done from scratch, all the images and files will have to be rounded up again. BUT this is a lot of work, something that is really not compatible with getting to grips with R AND writing a book. If that is what's required, moving the website will have to wait -- UNLESS, of course, one can pay someone to do the drudgery of rounding up all the material.


If you have a simple, well-defined little task, the number of people who have the relevant skills AND can do the task without a lot of oversight is very large. But if you have a task that involves doing everything from scratch, the number of people who have both the skills AND the patience to slog through, bringing the necessary attention to detail to bear, is very small. So you are not really divesting yourself of drudgery, you are taking on both a recruitment problem and a management problem. Both of these take up so much mental energy you are almost certainly better off doing the job yourself.

So, anyway. I hoped that what I had was a clean, simple little job: taking the files on the server and converting the hi-tech dead website into a lo-tech website that would see as much action as this lo-tech blog. But I didn't. My former web designer had embedded all the files in a Flash movie, so everything would have to be done from scratch. The friend who had offered to haul the website into Dreamweaver had roughly the tedium threshold of the original designer. So this was bad. The hi-tech Flash site was converted into a hi-tech Dreamweaver site, a site using CSS. But I don't want to clutter up my mind with CSS because I HAVE to get up to speed on R; the opportunity cost of wading through my Dreamweaver manual, sussing out CSS, is, of course, the amount of progress I could have made in the time with Lemon's Kickstarting R, Murrell's R Graphics usw. Poor old head. Poor old head.

I then get some e-mails from extremely fabulous Mr Ilya, the not-very-noticeably-abject Other of the Bauhaus functionalism embodied by R. I get an envelope in the post from EFMI which is one solid mass of duct tape apart from two small apertures in the duct tape where two addresses, mine and his, appear amidst the riot of adhesive. I don't really like to OPEN this thing of joy, but when I take a knife to it out come: 1. a DVD of of TELEVISION VIRTUAL FIREPLACE. Create the sensation of instant warmth! [what precisely the force of 'sensation' is in this context, of which we are told, LOOKS AND SOUNDS JUST LIKE THE REAL THING -- but Awwwwwwwwwww] Amaze your friends! Impress your loved ones! TURN YOUR TV INTO A REALISTIC FIREPLACE! and 2. several photocopies of drawings by Goya. Back in the days when EFMI was here we used to go to Sarotti, which has faux flames on an LCD behind the bar, so Awwwwwwwwwwww. And I get another e-mail about chlamydia sweeping through the koala population. And ANOTHER e-mail about EFMI hassling John Howard about numerous scandals, spreading annoyance and gene--

The friend who hauled the website into Dreamweaver has been quite unbelievably helpful and kind. I think she literally saved my life a few months ago ('literally' as in if not for this friend people would have been reading my obituary), and she has fought with the telecommunications bureaucracy on my behalf, and she is very funny and smart, and when I thought I had a simple, clean little job to do I thought I should give it to her. But when a job is not simple and clean, when a job requires the equivalent of a Guggenheim application to explain, it is very dangerous to hand it over to someone, because it will be impossible to get on with any other work -- and when the dust has settled there will be a lot of work left to be done. And as Mies said, Die Seele ist in den Details. Poor head, poor head, poor head, poor crazy head.

I think Kickstarting R is new. It says: Kickstarting R was initially compiled to help new users by requesting accounts of "... things that drove you crazy the first time you used R". Awwwwwwwwwww.

greek geek

Mithridates has managed to upload Stephen Daitz reading a passage from Aristophanes' Frogs. Fabelhaft. Here.


Before I forget -- have found this wonderful archive of recordings of spoken Arabic, covering dialects across the Arab world. It's the Semitisches Tonarchiv of the Ruprecht-Karles-Universität Heidelberg. The last time I tried to add it to the sidebar Blogger rolled over and played dead. Try again.

Friday, July 20, 2007


OK. I'm cracking up. I'm cracking up. I'm cracking up. I go over to Joel on Software to calm my nerves. Help me, Joel, help me please.

Joel has a post on the worthlessness of comments on blogs!!!!!!!! Endorsing the position of Dave Winer whose view is, if you have a point to make, start up your own blog.

Joel (and Dave):

"...to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog.... The cool thing about blogs is that while they may be quiet, and it may be hard to find what you're looking for, at least you can say what you think without being shouted down. This makes it possible for unpopular ideas to be expressed. And if you know history, the most important ideas often are the unpopular ones.... That's what's important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment."

The important thing to notice here is that Dave does not see blog comments as productive to the free exchange of ideas. They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don't have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else's thoughts. That's not freedom of expression, that's an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they'll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you'll move up in PageRank, and you'll have influence and your ideas will have power.

So Joel and Dave don't get people writing in about the decline of hip-hop??????!!!!!!!!! They don't think comments on the decline of hip-hop are a million times more interesting than whatever it was they had to say in their original post??????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think there is some sort of Nietzschean Will-to-Power behind the apparently easygoing facade of Messrs Spolsky and Winer. The implication is, Look, you moron, I wrote my post, if you have anything worth saying PageRank will inform me of the fact through the wisdom of crowds, don't rain on my parade. In other words

First come I: my name is Jowett
There's no knowledge but I know it
If I don't know it it isn't knowledge
I am Master of this College

cracking up

too many bad people.

i spend a lot of time trying to sidestep the things that will make me crack up and people spend a lot of time helpfully intervening and converting something that would reduce my chances of committing suicide into precisely the sort of thing

machines are my friends, hassan. machines are my friends. i remember reading this wonderful wonderful line, i think in a book by donald knuth. a computer does what you tell it to do.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Back at Yorckschlößchen, gestresst. I walk up to the bar and ask about crisps. 'Sie haben nur Prawn Cocktail? Oh, und Marmite, schrecklich.' A man at the bar tells me that in the basement is a big box of crisps with many other flavours. 'Jerry will bring them up for you.'
I go outside. There's a slight breeze. Jerry comes out and lays out Smoky Bacon! Cheese and Onion! Ready Salted! 'Smoky Bacon!' I say. 'Wow!' Jerry goes back inside. Katrin comes out and says they have Cheese and Onion.

I've been trying to get my website transferred from Flash to Dreamweaver. Bad news.

For the 79% of readers who use Windows, here's a link to MicroCharts, which has some great add-ins for producing Tuftean data displays using Excel.


Bad news, bad news, bad news.

I went to the Staatsbibliothek yesterday to pick up Potocki. I got there at 9; the Buchabholbereich doesn't open till 10. So I killed time reading a book on corrosion.

I wish I had been an engineer.

I spent some time wondering whether it might be possible, if I couldn't be an engineer, to find a job working with engineers. Could I get a job as a PA in an engineering firm? An engineering department?

I then went online to look at Language Hat. He had a post about Celtic sites. One offered an etymology for the word 'leprechaun' which commenter John Cowan promptly trashed. I went to Cowan's blog and found a shell script mini-clinic, which begins:

On one of the mailing lists I subscribe to, someone posted the following Unix shell script as a wrapper for a program which unfortunately littered the current directory with temporary files which it did not remove. (Because this post is not about the faults of that program, I've replaced the reference to it in the fourth line of the script).

pushd . > /dev/null
cd /tmp
some-program $@
popd > /dev/null

The author added, "I'm sure there's a better way to write the script, but this would do the trick." So it does. However, the code exhibits a number of misunderstandings of how shell scripts work that I think are worth clarifying.

The first and fifth lines are used to preserve and restore the current working directory. However, a script (or any Unix process) always has its own working directory; changing the working directory in a script does not affect the caller of the script in any way. This is not true for shell startup scripts like .login, .profile, and .bashrc, or for Windows .bat and .cmd files, all of which should be careful not to permanently change the current working directory.

So the first improvement is to remove the first and fifth lines entirely.

This too looks so much better as a profession than the one I have ended up in.

I got a Guggenheim Fellowship last year to explore ways of representing mathematical thinking about chance in fiction. I thought the way forward was to use the ideas set out in Edward Tufte's Envisioning Information, Visual Presentation of Quantitative Information and Visual Explanations. Unfortunately I had to deal with a succession of people in the publishing industry who were unable to see the usefulness of quantification in thinking about risk, so most of the time was spent exploring ways it is impossible to write a book exploring ways of representing mathematical thinking about chance if dealing with people incapable of thinking mathematically about chance. How nice it would be to turn up for work every day and spend a solid 8 hours with a team of engineers.

Well, well.

I had an idea for a book a while back. I think it had some of the savagery of Jane Austen, which I like. It had a character who generated $47,397 a year for Jack Daniels from a customer base of 10. (Sorry, I have just checked my notes: in the original version the character generated $49,295.60 a year for JD.) As I thought about the book it seemed to go in the direction of the savagery of Chuck Palahniuk, which I also like. The character was the human counterpart, I now see, of a program which unfortunately littered the current directory with temporary files which it did not remove.

How late it is, how late.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Phallicity of the Ruling Classes

These are the penises I saw today.

Small, nestled in turtleneck of skin atop testicles like a mother bird guarding speckled eggs.
Uncircumcised, gray-haired, patient, wise.
Wagging, confident, querulous.
An admirably glossy-headed & thickly venous truncheon beneath military crewcut.

...on Mithridates' Night Hauling

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Internet and Everyone

Many years ago I came across a strange book. It was a small, solid object, about 6" x 4" x 3" -- to hold it was to want to keep it. I opened it, and this is what I saw:


italic = rabbit path
bullet = goat path
sheep reads everything

reading appetite

rabbit: eats only the tasty bits
sheep: grazes only on cultivated pasture for which it has developed tastes and habits
goat: can eat anything but refuses what is not sensible or of poor quality

book-reading style

rabbit: selects books and opens pages by chance (sometimes using numerical patterns or random numbers), seeking literary style or beauty more than content, remembers intrinsic features – e.g. that something was one third of the way down a left-hand page near the middle of the book – does not follow continuous text unless the book accords with its deeper intuitions (but ignores what does not fit these)

sheep: reads every page from first to last, reading every footnote, enjoying and believing everything. Does not realize when it is being misled or manipulated, is grateful for everything and won’t venture into unfamiliar pastures unless assured by fashion or recommended by critics or by word of mouth (but it cannot take in what is original or new, nor can it change its reading habits)

goat: studies the contents list carefully, also the index, tables, and typographic indications of the structure, questioning everything – it reads and understands the book thoroughly or else rejects it quickly if initial scrutiny shows it to be worthless (or is foreign to its own ideas)


I began flipping through the book, looking at this page and that; I had to own it, though it cost a heartstopping £20. Years passed. I would quote the animal reading paths to people, urging the book on them, and they would say it sounded great and not buy it. Then I would meet them and bring the book along and they would quietly appropriate it.

2002: Jonathan Safran Foer comes to London, having had an e-mail describing the animal reading paths. I bring the book to our meeting. He holds it.

'Can I keep this?' he says.
'Sure,' I say, and I immediately go to Blackwell's to buy a replacement.

The girl at the till has never heard of it. I go to the back and find it among computer books. I take it back to the till. The girl at the till picks it up; she can hardly bring herself to let it leave the store.

'This is great!' she says.
'I know,' I say. 'Look,' I say, 'it has animal reading paths,' and I open to the page with the animal reading paths and urge her to read. She's laughing, she's saying how great the book is.

The Internet and Everyone is, in fact, the worst possible book to sell over the internet, because the thing that makes people want to own it is holding this 6x4x3 book in their hands. It's a book that belongs in a rack at the front of a store, where people coming in will be unable to resist picking it up and taking it away. Unfortunately it had a very small publisher, ellipsis, with nothing like the clout it takes to get a book in a rack at the front of a store.

I wanted to talk to its author, John Chris Jones, and its designer, Jonathan Moberley. I tracked Jonathan down to the Foundry, a grunge pub in the premises of a former NatWest bank on Old Street. Jonathan was running the pub and also running a radio series on which John Chris appeared. He wasn't talking to people. John Chris was talking to people. John Chris explained that he had taken a few copies into the Art Book Shop across the way and a customer had bought one on the spot. They had stocked a few copies and immediately sold them. We're chitchatting while I hold my own copy of i+e (as it is known to its fans). The girl at the bar asks to see it.

'This is great!' she says. 'It's so compact!'
John Chris has a been-there-bought-the-t-shirt-got-the-buttock-tattoo sort of expression. How can it be that the universal appeal of the book has not translated into universal acclaim?
'Can I keep this?' she says.
'Sure,' I say.

Some time later I got an e-mail from John Chris asking advice. Ellipsis had been acquired by Chrysalis, which had decided to discontinue i+e (presumably no one at Chrysalis had ever got their hands on the undeservedly obscure object of desire). Should he buy up the remainders? I said at once that he must buy them all, or if he did not want to buy them all I would buy 100 or so and he could use my storage unit in London to keep them in. So I picked up 100 of the last 200 copies of i+e, hoping to get the word out -- and instead they sat in my storage unit at Big Yellow while one thing went wrong and another thing went wrong.

I'd like to take i+e out of storage and sell copies to people who would appreciate it. Goats. Rabbits. Non-sheep. But i+e is in London; it seems silly to haul all 100 copies to Berlin.

Sooooooooo, long story short, I wondered if any London-based readers of this blog might be willing to take charge of 10 copies of i+e while we try to find them good homes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sisters under the skin

Tar Art Rat sounds more and more like my father facing a TV on which Ronald Reagan is seen ducking into a helicopter, one hand held to a supposedly unhearing ear

" "Countries like Iceland... demonstrate that living within our environmental means doesn't mean sacrificing human wellbeing," said Nic Marks, founder of Nef's Centre for Wellbeing."
Iceland has a population of just BARELY over 300,000 people (jackass!), even though the whole country drives SUVs (out of necessity) HOW BIG OF A GODDAMN CARBON FOOTPRINT CAN THEY EVEN POSSIBLY LEAVE??? I mean, jesus, 300,000 people is the size of most people's neighborhoods.

as well as this quote:

Scandinavians, Icelanders and the Swiss are the happiest people in Europe, while the unhappiest seven are all former Soviet-bloc states."

Ja, NOOO SHIIIIT -living in a socialized and/or wealthy blonde-haired blue-eyed Utopia might make me happy too whereas living is a debased and chaotic post-communist zone of shock and confusion might make me UNhappy. Ugh.

The Potocki Code

I came across this description of Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa at the website of a new independent bookstore in Bath, Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

Polish/French writing - Stories within stories within stories etc. This 18th century frame tale to end all frame tales is structured like a more complex Arabian Nights and is narrated in styles from Poe gothic/horror, through Boccaccio erotic, via Dumas adventure, incorporating Eco semiotic, wrapped in Borges surrealist, inside a Cervantes pastoral-picaresque setting.

There really is nothing else like it. Expand your horizons!

I'd never heard of this book. My first thought, of course, is This sounds GREAT! And my second thought is: what exactly is Polish/French writing? Is it translated from Polish (which I read slowly and painfully, with a dictionary that now happens to be in storage) or French (which I read with aplomb)? I hunt around online and discover that it was written in French, with copies on Amazon.fr starting at the very reasonable price of 100 euros. I then check StaBiKat, the catalogue of the Staatsbibliothek; they have both the 1804 and 1810 editions available for loan!

I'm very very excited.

There's an interview of Nic Bottomley, co-founder of Mr B's, in the Guardian, here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Secondhand Sales & Web 2.0

Hassan Abudu, who has recently graduated from Stanford, is trying to work out how secondhand sales and other exchanges that recycle books might be meshed with some sort of system that could benefit writers (e.g. through something like Facebook). If any other readers have ideas he would be interested to hear from you; he can be contacted at meyian (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rasterization Blues

ClearType Sub-pixel Positioning: Is that Possible?

Jeff Atwood definitely votes [5] for strict snapping to the pixel grid. My opinion is different. I do respect the pixel grid, but only in the Y-direction. In the X direction the sub-pixel positioning must be allowed. In this case we can reasonably sacrifice some sharpness (very gently!), but obtain freedom.

from the AGG Project (Anti-Grain Geometry) [an Open Source, free of charge graphic library, written in industrially standard C++. ]

Saturday, July 14, 2007

DFW again

I'd just been reading Eagleton's piece on Bakhtin in the LRB (which I came to courtesy of Language Hat who came to it courtesy of wood's lot, so we are back in the echo chamber) and so was especially interested by these comments from an Israeli reader on the DFW interview:

In the interview with DFW there is this part where, the interviewer asks the dfw about the footnotes, and then when dfw says that is a way to fragment reality, the interviewer, full heartily suggests that the readers could just read the book and then read the footnotes afterwards, (or the other way around, that the readers could just read every footnote when it appears, I didn't quite get which one it was and it doesn't matter) well, what matters is the SUPER CONFIDENT way in which dfw cuts the interviewer off and says (it's really in the tone) "Well I DON'T think readers would read it THAT way...and the interviewer is quick to assert him "yes yes of course"

I read that book (started during the pull out plan of gaza, finished in a
bunker of the separation fence of hebron) and I read half of it one way and
the other half in another way. I didn't even know I was doing it, I was just
trying to BEST survive the English, and best survive the way that the only
light I had was from my watch in hebron, and the letters in the footnotes
are too small for that light and my eyes.

My point is, what is the point of communications? You can talk and talk and
talk write sing dance paint shoot and the other person can hear and
understand what they want, there are hardly any ways for one to communicate.
I was once trying to communicate to a woman I used to respect how much
thought is invested everyday in my zionism, and all she was trying to do was
think of ways one can turn into an american citizen. Josh doesn't understand
me, I don't understand what you write on your website, even if I spend a
life time explaining to my unit members I am leaving behind what their
existence meant to me, they will never understand. I used to think if we are
Lucky, we get little fragments but now I am not sure of that anymore. The
last thing I was trying to do with wanting to stay in the army is be
dramatic, but if I would have told anyone in america except for you, (who is
a a half real person) that would have been the result. instead one has to go
through everything alone, making decisions out of necessity, rather than
choice and knowledge. people may know all kinds of things i don't, but i
don't know how the heck they could communicate them to me.

you think if one is an english speaker and a published author like dfw, and
went to college they would know all kinds of things you don't . But the fact
he REALLY thought he had control on how one would read his work (it was in
the tone) really depressed me. This is one thing you can learn as a sniper
commander. Teach a boy to shoot. And watch his interpretation on the

hmm...that's what I wanted to say


I wrote back saying

Well, I think one of the things DFW was trying to convey in the interview was that it was very hard for him to say what he wanted to say, on TV, in an interview. In other words, he did SAY things, because if you are on TV you HAVE to say things -- and it's all very linear. But maybe for everything he said he would have wanted to have a long footnote qualifying what he said, but in an interview it all has to be linear, and once you have said something you can't take it back.

I also think, though, that what I was trying to do in Your Name Here was SHOW how every reader takes a book in a completely different way, and you can't control that, but that affects what the book actually is -- except that then people didn't like it because they wanted the book to be totally controlled.

and begging to be allowed to post the e-mail on the blog and then got a reply which struck me as the ne plus ultra of dfwism

I am aware that I just wrote on how one doesn't actually react to what
someone else said, that one cannot understand what somebody else said, that
so...(well,) there is no point in anything we view as communications as one
cannot communicate, and yet I said all of that as a response (? or was it
all my head's doing..) to what someone else has SAID. on television. Now
if the dfw were to read my response to the interview's little sentence dfw
might say OH NO that is not what I was saying, you did not understand at
all, I do not see how this is related. (This is why I think television IS
sometimes great, you get to see the person, and pretend that even if they
tell you you completely don't understand, it's in the TONE, or something,
and they are denying it for this or that (money probably, or pride, or
craziness) and you don't feel so alone.)

I would like to say I do not understand at all how your first sentence in
the email was related to what I said. I do not understand at all, I do not
see how this is related. (I of course understood what dfw was trying to say
about literature, and also talking being linear and how he would have loved
for it to be a footnote, how you can't just say something once and be done
with it in his head... what I was commenting on was on how in his tone a
second later he sounded SO confident that the book would be read a certain
way the way he intended, and I was commenting on that confidence...what I
thought of it etc etc...If I did not understand what he was saying about
what he wanted why would I comment on his confidence that some of what he
wanted was achieved? why would you write the first sentence? you must have
not understood at all, this was totally unrelated, I must have failed at

Except for the second sentence, which with your name here adds to exactly
what I was saying and then some. I DO think why people may not be able to
THINK they understand the book like they THINK they understand other books
(and by people i mean me, i don't really know any people who read books) is
because it is not controlled, a PART of it is that one could get different
messages, people can't find the RIGHT way (which they don't know is THEIR
way) to get the book, people then say i don't get the book, you keep on
messing with the plans they have for themselves as they are reading it, I
think that can be rather unpleasant and tiring for some, people may not like
to be messed THAT way.

I am sort of inconclusive as you can or (cannot see) about whether or not
one can get fragments of communications across at times.

One way to see if that is true, to really not give up and try, would be to
keep on saying, at least once in every interaction when appropriate, I do
not understand at all, I do not see how this is related, and then explain.
This is what I was demonstrating right now. but of course, then people think
you talk too much about little things, that you do not know how to glide
things, that you are (I looked it up) high maintenance. They don't want to
talk to you anymore, at least not about that. If you keep on saying, I do
not understand at all, I do not see how this is related, what you become is

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kurosawa on Mifune

After hearing O'Toole on watching Rashomon for the first time and seeing Toshiro Mifune, I went back to the section in Kurosawa's Something Like an Autobiography where he describes how Mifune got his first break as an actor

On the day of the interviews and screen tests I was in the middle of the shooting of No Regrets for Our Youth, so I couldn't participate in the judging. But during lunch break I stepped off the set and was immediately accosted by actress Takamine Hideko, who had been the star of Yamamato Kajiro's Horses when I was chief assistant director. "There's one who's really fantastic. But he's something of a roughneck, so he just barely passed. Won't you come and have a look?" I bolted my lunch and went to the studio where the tests were being given. I opened the door and stopped dead in amazement.

A young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. It was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed. But it turned out that this young man was not really in a rage, but had drawn "anger" as the emotion he had to express in his screen test. He was acting. When he finished his performance, he regained his chair with an exhausted demeanor, flopped down and began to glare menacingly at the judges. Now, I knew very well that this kind of behavior was a cover for shyness, but the jury seemed to be interpreting it as disrespect.

I found this young man strangely attractive, and concern over the judges' decision began to distract me from my work. I returned to my set and wrapped up the shooting early. Then I proceeded to look in on the room where the jury were deliberating. Despite Yama-san's strong recommendation of the young man, the voting was against him. Suddenly I heard myself shouting, "Please, wait a minute."

The jury was made up of two groups: movie-industry specialists (directors, cinematographers, producers and actors) and representatives of the labor union. The two groups were equally represented. At that time the union was gaining in strength daily, and union representatives appeared wherever something was happening. Because of them, all decisions had to be made by voting, but I felt that for them to voice their opinions on the selection of actors was really going too far. Even the expression "going too far" doesn't do justice to the suppressed anger boiling in me. I called for a time out.

I said that in order to judge the quality of an actor and predict his future capacities you need the talents and experience of an expert. In the selection of an actor it isn't right to equate the vote of an expert and the vote of a complete outsider. It's like appraising a gemstone; you wouldn't give a greengrocer's appraisal the same weight you would a jeweler's. In evaluating an actor, an expert's vote should have at least three if not five times the weight of an amateur's. I emphasized that I wanted a recount of the votes with more appropriate weight assigned to the experts' opinions.

The jury was thrown into an uproar. "It's anti-democratic, it's monopoly by directors!" someone shouted. But all of the production people on the jury raised their hands in approval of my suggestion, and even some labor-union representatives nodded their assent. Finally Yama-san, who was head of the jury, said that as a movie director he would take responsibility for his opinion for the quality and potential of the young actor in question. With Yama-san's pronouncement the young man squeaked through. He was, of course, Mifune Toshiro.


62 copies starting at $3.02 on Amazon. Even if you have no interest in Japan, no interest in Japanese film, it is STILL worth reading if you have ever cared about anything you knew a lot about and found yourself outvoted by people who know nothing and care less. I ordered a copy of the Japanese edition from the Japan Centre at Piccadilly Circus, and I worked through this passage in Japanese when I knew no Japanese, because I had to see what Kurosawa said. Better News for Modern Man than the Gideon Bible, I think.


Jonathan Hanson, who has recently launched a magazine on overland travel, sends this photo of nectar-feeding bats

Black Swans

Freakonomics ran a post Tuesday on the question of whether, if public libraries did not exist, publishers would allow them to be started up or fight to the death to prevent this threat to profits. Such was the startling volume of traffic that the Freakonomics website was frozen. More on the numbercrunching here.

The Entertainer

Peter O'Toole tells Charlie Rose how he came to want to be an actor

He had no desire to be an actor until he was 20, and then it hit him hard

I saw Richard [Burton] onstage. I saw him play Hamlet, I saw him play Toby Belch, this is day after day after day, Caliban in the Tempest, the Bastard in King John

CR Where was this?
O'T the Old Vic
CR the Old Vic, so it was in London
O'T in London

I was absolutely knocked out. I was knocked out by the entire company, excellent people throughout

I then went to a cinema
I was in a sailor suit, I was in bell bottoms
I went to a cinema in Curzon Street, and playing in that cinema was a film called Rashomon

CR Yes, a great
O'T and I saw Toshiro Mifune
CR Yes
O'T with such energy
and and and so compact
and I thought I'd love to be able to do that
and those two things, that's the beginning of me wanting to do it

[I was feeling very low when I started to watch this. I can't begin to say what it meant, hearing O'Toole talk of going to a cinema, waiting for the name of the film -- and it was Rashomon. With Toshiro Mifune.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Show Must Go ON

Just after quoting Goffman came across DFW on the Charlie Rose Show back in 1997, new to me if not to you, which says everything I might have wanted to say about life, the universe, postmodernism and Your Name Here

DFW: Well I'm just gonna look pretentious, talking about this
CR: Quit worrying about what you're gonna look like and just be
DFW: I've got news for you, coming on a television show stimulates you're what am I gonna look like gland like no other experience, you may now be such a veteran that you're like you don't notice it anymore
you confront your own vanity when you think about going on TV so, no apologies, but just that's an explanation
the footnotes in the
there's a way um
there's a way that it seems to me that reality's fractured right now at least the reality that I live in
the difficulty about writing one of those
writing about that reality is that text is very linear and it's very unified
and you you um I anyway am constantly on the look-out for ways to fracture the text that aren't totally disorienting I mean you can you know you can um take the lines and jumble them up and that's nicely fractured but nobody's gonna read it

the rest here

The Show Must Go On

It is important to note that when an individual offers a performance he typically conceals something more than inappropriate pleasures and economies. Some of these matters for concealment may be suggested here.

First, in addition to secret pleasures and economies, the performer may be engaged in a profitable form of activity that is concealed from his audience and that is incompatible with the view of his activity which he hopes they will obtain. The model here is to be found with hilarious clarity in the cigar-store-bookie-joint, but something of the spirit of these establishments can be found in many places. A surprising number of workers seem to justify their jobs to themselves by the tools that can be stolen, or the food supplies that can be resold, or the travelling that can be enjoyed on company time, or the propaganda that can be distributed, or the contacts that can be made and properly influenced, et. In all such cases, place of work and official activity come to be a kind of shell which conceals the spirited life of the performer.

Secondly, we find that errors and mistakes are often corrected before the performance takes place, while telltale signs that errors have been made and corrected are themselves concealed. In this way an impression of infallibility, so important in many presentations, is maintained. There is a famous remark that doctors bury their mistakes. Another example is found in a recent dissertation on social interaction in three government offices, which suggests that officers disliked dictating reports to a stenographer because they liked to go back over their reports and correct the flaws before a stenographer, let alone a superior, saw the reports.

Thirdly, in those interactions where the individual presents a product to others, he will tend to show them only the end product, and they will be led into judging him on the basis of something that has been finished, polished, and packaged. In some cases, if very little effort was actually required to complete the object, this fact will be concealed. In other cases, it will be the long, tedious hours of lonely labour that will be hidden. For example, the urbane style affected in some scholarly books can be instructively compared with the feverish drudgery the author may have endured in order to complete the index on time, or with the squabbles he may have had with his publisher in order to increase the size of the first letter of his last name as it appears on the cover of his book.

A fourth discrepancy between appearances and over-all reality may be cited. We find that there are many performances which could not have been given had not tasks been done which were physically unclean, semi-illegal, cruel, and degrading in other ways; but these disturbing facts are seldom expressed during a performance. In Hughes's terms, we tend to conceal from our audience all evidence of 'dirty work', whether we do this work in private or allocate it to a servant, to the impersonal market, to a legitimate specialist, or to an illegitimate one.

Closely connected with the notion of dirty work is a fifth discrepancy between appearance and actual activity. If the activity of an individual is to embody several ideal standards, and if a good showing is to be made, it is likely then that some of these standards will be sustained in public by the private sacrifice of some of the others. Often, of course, the performer will sacrifice those standards whose loss can be concealed and will make this sacrifice in order to maintain standards whosse inadequate application cannot be concealed. Thus, during times of rationing, if a restaurateur, grocer, or butcher is to maintain his customary show of variety, and affirm his customers' image of him, then concealable sources of illegal supply may be his solution. So, too, if a service is judged on the basis of speed and quality, quality is likely to fall before speed because poor quality can be concealed but now slow service. Similarly, if attendants in a mental ward are to maintain order and at the same time not hit patients, and if this combination of standards is difficult to maintain, then the unruly patient may be 'necked' with a wet towel and choked into submission in a way that leaves no visible evidence of mistreatment. Absence of mistreatment can be faked, not order...

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Alisa Savtchenko's Open House

Hello everybody!
this week-end stellen wir as kunststudenten in
MonbijouPArk aus--and I'm showing 2 videos.
(near Hackescher Markt and Oranienburger str. S- und
U-Bahn, on the Oranienburger Str., in the park,
grey-red building)

come! come!

Monday, July 9, 2007

l'homme ne descend pas du singe, mais du néant

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
installation by Ingrid Kerma at Verloren und Gefunden, Petersdorf, 1-8 July 2007

Yves Dewaele on Svetislav Basara

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Riddley Walker again

Patrick Jehle has a post on Riddley Walker on Night Hauling. Of the 25 voters in the Paperpools Riddley Walker poll, 13 think it's a masterpiece of 20th century fiction, 3 have heard of it but never read it and 9 have never heard of it.

This is, of course, a ludicrously small sample, but the pattern is what I would expect to find for an unjustly neglected work of genius (if a similar poll were run for Ulysses, even one vote in 'never heard of it' would be astounding, though it would not be surprising to get many votes in 'heard of but not read' ). More Riddley:

Befor I write down that 1st connexion I bes say a word or 2 about connexions and I myt as wel tel Truth. When my dad ben a live I all ways thot I cud do better connexions nor him when my chance come. How he don it he wud mummel slow and quyet and start and stop with long sylents be twean and mosly his connexions wernt nothing as citing. Every body liket them tho. They all ways went strait to the hart of the matter plus they wer jus that littl bit else nor mos peopl wuntve thot of it qwite the same way.

Like the time wen I ben 7 or 8 when Littl Salting Fents got largent in by Dog Et Form. That ben up on Top Shoar and we ben down by Fork Stoan then in Crippel the Farn Fents. Every body heard of it tho and talking on it. Dog Et tol some cow shit story of a Outland raid from over water they said thats how Littl Salting got ther Big Man kilt plus 8 mor dead and the res of the crowd sparsit out to who ever wud take them in...in that woal story Dog Et tol ther bint a word of Truth only how many dead. Every body knowit Dog Et said, 'Les largen in to gether' and Littl Salting said 'No' which then it wer arga warga for them.

Wel the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer don 1 of ther specials dint they. Coarse they don. My dad tol me that show over when he ben learning me. I myt as wel tel it here then when I write down the connexion for it thatwl show his styl.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

somebody understands

We realize however, that you're busy and cannot sit monitoring your widget all day.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Yvain Dewaele on French and English books

I got an e-mail from YD, a reader in Rouen, and wrote back saying how much I liked the savage austerity of formal French prose, which has no equivalent in English — English texts show such a terrible anxiety to please. This, I thought, was why Beckett was drawn to writing in French. YD's English is very good, but I urged him to write in French if he preferred. He sent back a reply which I thought everyone would want to see -- except that, of course, all readers of the blog do not know French, and I am a very bad translator.

One thing this shows, of course, is why we do need e-books if fiction is to be everything it is capable of being. I have texts I have never bothered to try to publish, because they include a quotation from Vasari in Italian, from Spinoza in Latin, from Adorno in German -- and the texture of the piece depends on moving from one language to another. In an electronic medium it would be easy to let the reader either click on passages s/he did not understand to bring up a translation, or even to set the text from the start for English -- this is no different from what we do all the time with DVDs. That is quite different from having wall-to-wall English published as the official version. It's also quite different from cluttering up the text with translations every time another language is brought on the page -- if you do that you spoil the thing that made the text interesting in the first place.

One way to publish such a text, of course, would be in a blog like Wordpress, where translations could be included under the fold. It's a clunky workaround, but it does also mean images can be included. The good thing about these blogs with their prefab templates and features is that they bring out into the open constraints that operate on books without being visible: one can see the extent to which formal possibilities are opened up or closed off by technical decisions made off-stage. Books don't lay bare the things they make it impossible for us to do.

After YD wrote back about French and English books he then wrote another e-mail about Serbian writers. I don't know Serbian writers at all, and I felt even more that readers of the blog should see this, while being even more conscious that non-francophone readers of the blog would be even more at sea.

Several readers have proposed ways of introducing code to Blogger so that posts can be continued on a separate page, and I have done nothing whatseover about it. So I am going for the clunky workaround: the first paragraph of each of these wonderful e-mails is posted here, and the whole text posted on the sister blog, paperpools.wordpress.com.

YD writes:

Oui, la France a ses bons cotés, particulièrement en ce qui concerne les librairies (même si, depuis que je me suis installé à Rouen avec mon ami, je n’arrive pas à trouver de travail dans ce secteur, ce qui me déprime grandement et me force à me reconvertir temporairement en vendeur de popcorn dans un cinéma…). Je suis d’accord avec vous sur l’austérité de la prose française classique, d’autant plus étonnante qu’elle se conjuguait bien souvent avec un sens de la description interminable. Je me rappele avoir lu “La peau de chagrin” de Balzac alors que je n’avais que onze ans et avoir été très impressioné par le fait que la plupart des phrases faisaient une vingtaine de lignes en moyenne, une ou deux pages pour certaines… Je ne savais pas à l’époque que la plupart des grands auteurs dit classiques écrivaient par épisodes pour les journeaux, et étaient donc payés à la ligne… Qu’auraient donné les flamboyantes descriptions de 50 pages des égouts de Paris par Victor Hugo dans les Misérables si les salaires d’écrivains de l’époque avaient été calculé autrement? C’est un mystère insondable, mais assez plaisant.

(the rest here)